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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a black comedy about a mother's rage

2018-02-25 00:00

City Press Movie Review

Movie: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director: Martin McDonagh

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson

Rating: Four stars

“Raped while dying ... And still no arrests ... How come, Chief Willoughby?”

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an artistic masterpiece.

Frances McDormand is the image of a broken heart painted in bleeding brushstrokes in her role as Mildred Hayes, a resident of the town who hunts for justice for her teenage daughter – a victim of rape who was left for dead with a body scorched by the fire of misogyny and violence against women.

The death of Mildred’s daughter occurred less than a year before, but her murderer/rapist has not been found.

“Pull blood from every man in the country,” she says to Willoughby, the local sheriff – played with heartwarming humanity by Woody Harrelson.

The billboards are abandoned in a meadow until Mildred decides to rent them and paint slogans of necessity and anger on them.

No scene is more jarring than the one in which Willoughby confesses to Mildred that he is dying of cancer. He asks her to remove the billboards as an act of kindness, but she doesn’t budge. Her eyes are blurred with sympathy, her words heavy with woe.

This interaction leaves the viewer caught in a landslide of emotions. Has Mildred’s painful search for justice removed her ability for compassion? Should we still be supporting her on this journey, or should we change our minds and take a more objective stance? The most poignant question we ask ourselves is: Can grief go too far?

All these questions are answered during the film through the role of Sam Rockwell, who plays racist police officer Dixon.

This movie about a woman who is fed up with violence against women enters our world at the perfect time – a time when women shout on Twitter, in op-eds and in courtrooms. A time of #MeToo and Harvey Weinstein and Donald Trump. A time of an energised and invigorated force of women who stand together in solidarity and struggle.

But it must be said that, while the movie echoes the depth of the discourse on sexism, it is a reminder of the unfortunate motto of our time: We can only handle one injustice at a time because too much outrage is inconvenient. Three Billboards fails to give racial discrimination it’s fair share of screen time. Its treatment of racism is a vague watercolour compared with the stark oil painting that depicts other themes of oppression.

The film is thin on diversity and thinner on intersectionalism. It’s another reflection of pop culture’s current take on feminism, which remains unconvincing and rather gauche.

That said, you should absolutely watch this film. Watch it for its ensemble cast, and watch it for its clever script littered with humour and torture and ferocity. Watch it for its villains, but, mostly, watch it for its heroes, specifically the incendiary Mildred.

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