Growing up in St. Louis, Mo., it was incredibly hard to believe a film that had the state’s name in its title would be capable of holding its own in a best picture race in the Oscars. Nothing against the state itself, it was just hard to imagine any real message of substance being portrayed in a setting like Missouri.
That is exactly what “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” does. The film perfectly uses its setting of a small town to portray the relationship of police and its community in a way that some may see as truth and others view differently.
In today’s politically charged world, it is no easy task to skirt the issue of police relations that is fair to both sides but this movie does so by not only creating a sympathetic character on both sides but doing so in a way that creates legitimate tension that is understandable by either side of the spectrum. On one side, there is a police chief with cancer who simply wants the public to understand the impossibility of his task he’s being pressured into and on the other, there is a mother whose daughter was raped and burned alive who simply wants justice.
Both are understandably frustrated characters who simply want the world to understand what they are feeling yet those two things naturally conflict with each other. As a result, the viewer is thrust into the same impossible situation the characters are, creating the same complexities as the relationship between police and citizens that many feel in today’s world.
Those complexities are not portrayed through Woody Harrelson’s character of the town sheriff who has cancer and attempts to use it as a tactic to disarm Frances McDormand’s character of Mildred, the determined mother who is out to find justice for her murdered daughter. Instead, Harrelson’s character represents the good police presence that is attacked under unfortunate circumstances while the true star of the movie, Sam Rockwell’s Dixon, a policeman subordinate with a history of racial injustice, is the true representation of the conflict of the movie.
A character who embodies the dark humor that makes the movie so enjoyable while still participating, in fact instigating, one of the most truly disturbing scenes in 2017. The film uses Rockwell’s talent of creating a character that is soaked in willful ignorance to create a tension between McDormand’s Mildred who simply wants to the police to put more effort into finding her daughter’s rapist and the tension within the police force itself.
Dixon is a police officer who enjoys the power of being a police officer and is blindly loyal to those who share his badge but as the film progresses, his character growth creates a sympathy for the viewer that they may not have been expecting. “Three Billboards” utilizes a brilliant combination of dark humor that has the viewer legitimately laughing out loud and then just minutes later has them taken aback with the extent to which police abuse can go.
Dixon’s character is not the only layered and fascinating character of the movie, as most of them are, but McDormand’s Mildred epitomizes what makes it so great. Her ability to create a strong female character that raises above the pettiness and challenges male figures head on without so much a flinch creates a strong central character you can’t help but root for. Her character does mistakes throughout the film but McDormand’s portrayal of her character creates an experience that forces the viewer to at least consider forgiveness for said mistakes given her frustrations.
While it would’ve been easy for the movie to take the anti-police route, it instead explores the pain of the victims that feel they’re being ignored by law enforcers yet also shows the police force’s perspective of the situation. Sometimes enforcement can only go so far within the boundaries of the law.
Dixon himself is an embodiment of this struggle. Rockwell’s character is one that struggles with his basic instinct and yet as the film progresses, realizes the power and responsibility a police badge bestows upon him.
The true brilliance of the movie, beyond the all-around flawless performance of its cast, is the fact that there is no truly good or bad character. Each major player introduced in the film presents both the good and bad of police relations with the community, the will of those who seek justice and frankly humanity itself.
“Three Billboards” exemplifies the power of a parent’s love for their child, the desire the scorned have for revenge, law protector’s abuse of power and realization of said power and the consequences of one’s actions. It is truly a complex film that explores multiple prevalent questions in today’s society but does so in a way that emphasizes brilliant humor along with very real issues.
This feat is propelled forward by an overall great cast including performances by Harrelson, McDormand and Rockwell in particular.
The true brilliance of the movie is its ability create characters that the viewer does not cheer for as it progresses but instead creates characters that are understandable and the viewer can sympathize with, even if they’re in power and simply explore to abuse that power. The main characters of this movie are complex characters that force the viewer to question what the context surrounding situations their own political beliefs may push them toward and as a result, it creates a plot that produces complex characters and socially relevant questions while providing potential answers to both.