I’ve just finished watching Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the film which won a hatload of Oscars at the last Academy Awards. What follows are my thoughts which contain major spoilers, so if you’ve not seen it, don’t read on.
Frankly, it’s shite, written especially so that right-on liberals can have all their prejudices confirmed and swoon over each other at the Oscars. The main character Mildred, played by Frances McDormand, is nine months on from her daughter being raped (of course) and murdered with the crime remaining unsolved. Understandably upset, she erects three billboards aimed at humiliating the local police chief, a man called Willoughby played by Woody Harrelson, into doing something. Shortly afterwards, Mildred is told by Willoughby that the case went cold because the DNA on her daughters body didn’t match anyone who’s been arrested or was linked to any other crime in the USA, nor were there any witnesses. Mildred suggests, apparently in all seriousness, that every male in the country should be put on a database, something which I’m sure many fans of this film think is a great idea.
We’re led to believe the local police are incompetent boobs – which perhaps they are given the size of the town. Are they equipped to deal with murders? I don’t know, but it would have made an interesting story. Instead, they simply made Willoughby’s staff a bunch of racist, homophobic, alcoholic, knuckle-dragging rednecks which make the depiction of the backwoods guys in Deliverance look even-handed. Obviously they thought crude stereotypes was the way to Oscar victory because they also gave Mildred a violent, alcoholic ex-husband who left her for a pretty woman half his age. Why this young woman would be attracted to this man, who didn’t show any characteristics which would answer the question, is left to the viewer to guess. Naturally, the writers had to make her thick as pigshit, presumably so men in real life don’t go getting ideas, and included not one but two God-awful scenes which felt like they’d been plucked from a sitcom. Oddly, none of the feminists applauding the film at the Oscars objected to the notion that if a woman is young and pretty she’s also stupid, and if she’s stupid it’s okay to ridicule her.
Notably, Mildred’s ex-husband also didn’t seem too cut up over the fact his daughter had been raped and murdered. Rather than burning the place to the ground as I imagine most violent redneck fathers would, this was left to Mildred. In case we too dense to understand why she was so affected by her daughter’s murder, we’re treated to a scene where she and her two teenage brats hurl abuse at one another before the daughter storms out of the house saying “I hope I get raped” and Mildred shouts “I hope you get raped too.” And sure enough, she gets raped. If this passes for Oscar-worthy scriptwriting, I reckon I might take the next flight to Hollywood.
On the subject of dialogue, it is appalling throughout. I’m with Tim Worstall on this:
The use of the term “fuck” would have seemed heavy handed in a movie about mobsters, gang bangers or soldiers under heavy fire. And there is a scene where the main character is called a “cunt” at the breakfast table by her teenage son – twice, in fact. In another scene the police chief is arranging a picnic game to keep his two very young daughters busy so he and his wife can slip away for some romance. He tells them the rules include that “no one can set foot off this God damn blanket” (I’m working from memory, so pardon me if I got the quote slightly wrong, and I believe he dropped two “God damns” in the scene). Maybe I’m out of touch, but using that language with 4 year olds just seems peculiar.
The whole film feels as though it were written by a bunch of teenagers who’d just discovered a Tarantino film and thought foul language is what makes a movie great. Tim is also correct when he says:
One other example of how dark the movie is – we are told that the town generally sides with the police chief and disapproves of the billboards. So, when our protagonist goes to the dentist she gets a very chilly reception. So chilly in fact, that he tries to drill a tooth without anaesthetic. That scene definitely lost me – seriously, a dentist would torture a grieving mother whose daughter was “raped while dying” over billboards on a road we were told no one uses anymore.
I didn’t buy this either. Any small town in which a teenager has been raped and murdered would be overwhelmingly and indefinitely sympathetic to her mother. What the writers were trying to do is convince us that small-town Americans in flyover country are nasty, vindictive, and backward. It probably doesn’t surprise anyone at this point that the only people who show any sort of human warmth towards Mildred are a black (or mixed-race) woman, a black man, another black man, a dwarf, and a gay man. House!
For those clinging to the hope that the story might at least hold together, it doesn’t. A strange man comes into Mildred’s shop and intimidates her, who we later think might be the killer, but it’s proven that he wasn’t. So why was he threatening her? We don’t find out, but we do know that he’s a soldier (boo! hiss!) and probably raped someone else, so Mildred and redneck-cop-turned-good take off at the end of the film to murder him. Presumably this constitutes justice in someone’s world.
There are a few fleetingly good moments: Willoughby’s words from beyond the grave are touching, but would have been better said in person rather than read from a letter. Both Harrelson and McDormand can act, but we didn’t need this film to tell us that. And the soundtrack is good, particularly Townes Van Zandt’s Buckskin Stallion Blues. I should listen to more Townes Van Zandt, and so should you. It would be a better use of your time than watching Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.