‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ is a perfectly dark comedy/drama that strikes all of the social nerves of 2017

| November 17, 2017

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” doesn’t pull any punches in being a commentary on America’s social ills. And it has no problem painting any side as being completely hyperbolically in the wrong to the point of being repugnant. No one gets called “Hitler”, but it’s pretty obvious what point the film is trying to make when a police officer thinks he is being tact and nuanced when he corrects an accusation by referring to it instead as “the torture of ‘persons of color’”. Not because it doesn’t happen, but because there could be a worse word used. three billboards

Racism is just one of the festering issues “Three Billboards” opts to lance open, along with several others. Fed up with a small town police force making no arrests in the brutal rape and murder of her daughter, Mildred (Frances McDormand) decides to make the issue public when she leases three billboards that call out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for his department’s lack of progress.

The action instantly divides the town. Members of the police force attempt to intimidate in order to bring the billboards down, local friends of the police attempt to apply their own redneck form of frontier justice to do the same, while the oppressed see a glimmer of hope in a town that has a history of racist police abuse. Each action causes a bigger reaction, which causes another as the town careens towards its boiling point.

While the film definitely chooses its sides on all of its issues, it still manages to tread a fine line without it falling into farce. Every character, no matter how glorified or muckraked, has both their virtues and sins open for examination in ways that will have you laughing out loud while also reflecting on your own life choices. Those fighting for the rights of others have their own prejudices revealed. Mildred, played in a truly unflappable performance by McDormand, barrels ahead in her actions to avenge her daughter with absolute conviction. Her work is commendable, but there is a dark side to her vengeful personality as well.

Chief Willoughby, despite leading a police department that has no issue giving their village idiot a gun and badge, provides justifiable reasons for why they are not further along in the case while coming across as a positive father figure to many in the town.

The film knows exactly how to make it hilarious when a character is the butt of a joke, but two scenes later will have you feeling sympathy for them as it gives you a moment to walk in their shoes. And while it’s easy to peg certain characters for being in the wrong, it gives you a good idea of how they got there.

Despite benefiting from some nihilistic Coen brothers-esque comedic moments, the heart of the film lies in these human moments where even a horrible person gets to showcase moments of decency or a hot head knows when to back down out of respect. These moments don’t absolve them of their past errors, but it’s a nice hope that if these flawed characters can mine any goodness where there sometimes doesn’t seem to be any, it points to things eventually getting better in their world and will leave audiences with plenty to chew on as they turn back to the real lives they have to face.

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