Saturday, February 3, 2018
OSCARS 2018: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
The Pillowman,” a disturbing bit of speculative fiction heavy on violence against children, while I was in college. However, McConagh is also a filmmaker. His previous movies, “In Burges” and “Seven Psychopaths,” earned critical acclaim and cult followings. And now, his third feature, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” is a Best Picture contender. (This brings him back to the Oscars, as his short film, “Six Shooter,” won the Best Live Action Short award in 2004.) “Three Billboards” has become one of the most controversial films this Oscar season, as people have argued about the way it represents its various controversial themes. This has not stopped the movie from picking up quite a few awards along the way. I guess it's time for me to weigh in.
Seven months ago, Mildred Hayes' teenage daughter was viciously burned, raped, and murdered and in that order. The police of Ebbing, Missouri have made no arrests. While drivng home one night, Mildred notices three empty billboards and gets an idea. She purchases the billboards, planting a message detailing the crime and asking why no one has been apprehended yet on them. This throws the community into turmoil. Sheriff Willoughby, dying of cancer, struggles with what to do. Officer Jason Dixon struggles through his own rage and prejudices to react to the confrontation. Mildred, meanwhile, makes herself a target for scrutiny.
There's one thing, though, even the detractors of “Three Billboards” seem to agree on. Frances McDormand is fucking fantastic as Mildred. Wearing a constant scowl, McDormand makes Frances a force of nature. She is never afraid to speak her mind and does not give a shit if she offends someone. When confronted, such as by a random thug who comes into her shop, she never back downs. Her rage against the police, boundless and red hot, can't help but feel relevant in a time when the injustices performed by cops are coming to light more and more. Yet Mildred is not just a furious wronged woman. She has softer moments, talking to a stray deer or her bunny slippers in the morning, and even chooses to calm herself at several times. It's an impressive performance and will probably win McDormand her second Oscar.
“Three Billboards” belongs fairly clearly to the dramady genre, as it veers between serious and comedic throughout. The film succeeds as a dark comedy mostly thanks to McConagh's colorfully profane dialogue. A memorably funny moment has Mildred swearing – Mildred swears a lot – at a newscaster who is perhaps speculating a little too much. As a drama, the film works best when focusing on its key characters, such as Mildred's struggles or Dixon's attempt to unravel the central crime. Ultimately, the film suffers from a lack of focus. It's trying to do so many things, some of them better than others, that no ending could've readily satisfied viewers. The one McDonagh cooked up, which verges on the half-assed, certainly does not.
Some have suggested that this middlebrow approach to social justice issues might make the film a Best Picture winner. Considering this is a year without a clear front runner, I could see the vote being split and an obvious runner-up like this grabbing the top prize. We'll see. Until then, I say “Three Billboards” contains a great performance but its not enough to save an occasionally clever but ultimately muddled screenplay. [6/10]