Already we’re in Oscar season, you can smell it in the cinemas as all the films you’ve heard about getting awards and nominations are finally released. For the UK it makes January one of the best times of the year to see films at the cinema. However, it is also a time to be very cautious. I have made the mistake of expecting too much from a film in the past and have fallen for the classic “Oscar-bait” films. Which is why before seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and hearing about how the film was doing exceptionally well in getting award nominations, I told myself that despite the talented people behind it I would contain myself and just let the film happen. Now I’d like to go back and punch myself in the face because Three Billboard is possibly the worthiest film of being crowned best picture this year.
I ask you to recall the feeling of when you have heard of an offensive joke and made that “ooooh” sound. That is what Three Billboards feels like all the way through. Martin McDonagh’s dark drama is so hard-hitting, the characters are like the stabbing of the knife and the dialogue is the twisting of it. Because of this, the story feels even more gripping, we allow ourselves to get invested with these characters and we are put in this awkward situation where by the end of the film, we can see that these people are neither good nor bad, they’re just people. This level of complexity in characters is the sign of a peerless director and writer.
Let’s get on to the performances, Frances McDormand who plays our main character Mildred is already an experiences actress, but she may have just pulled off the best performance of her career. Mildred is not the nicest person or mother for that matter, but we root for her anyway because of her devotion to learning the truth, something we have all wanted at some point in our lives and it fills us with both rage and relief, Mildred is the translation of the rage we feel in those moments.
Both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell have received many nominations for their supporting performances, and while both give us performances that are uniquely exceptional, it is Sam Rockwell that knocks it out of the park. I say this because it is his character of the bigoted officer Dixon who has the better character development overall. Officer Dixon undergoes an incredible characteristic transformation and even before all that is involved in many scenes that will easily stay in your mind after seeing Three Billboards. Woody Harrison on the other hand is just as great as Police Chief Willoughby. Because of the singling out that he has unwillingly been subjected to we naturally gravitate towards his character and we’re not disappointed as he plays all manner of cards from the tenderness to compassion card. Harrelson is at his best during these softer moments of the film.
These performances are very much out there, and I must give credit for Martin McDonagh for the incredible job he has done in directing these actors and for writing a script that is harsh but at its core, is a story that plays out like a tragic comedy whilst also unleashing onto its audience the darker side of vengeance and a divided community.
The only big criticism I can think of is how the film ends. Three Billboards takes you on a dark ride there is no doubt about that, however the road this narrative gets ahead of itself. We all know when an ending to a film is coming, maybe we feel as though the characters have fulfilled their purpose to the narrative or there’s a big piece of dialogue at the end to wrap everything up in a bow. Three Billboard never reaches this point as it ends abruptly. It feels as though there should have been more scenes added on and when a film does this, it’s quite natural to feel disappointment because we wanted more due to our investment in the story and characters.
I don’t have a crystal ball, I can’t tell you for certain that Three Billboards will win for certain, but what I can say is it deserves the right to be the odds-on favourite for best picture. Without fantastic talent behind it and a script that is masterfully written, Three Billboards would not have gathered the reputation it deserves. This film’s subjects from grief to race relations in rural America is handled perfectly on so many levels, the complexity seems to have spread throughout the films characters. This is one of the most compelling stories to come out in the past years and the merits that is will possibly earned in the future are more than well deserved.