Thursday, 19 July 2018

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is ambiguous

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI - 2017
Director: Martin McDonagh.
Cast: Frances McDormand / Sam Rockwell / Woody Harrelson
Score: Carter Burwell.
Cinematography: Ben Davis.
Content Advisory: R for strong language, violence, and sexual references.
Source: Rented.


A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter's murder when they fail to catch the culprit.



It's won Oscars. It's won Golden Globes. It's received numerous award nominations. It's also sparked intense controversy and fueled fierce social media discourse. It goes without saying that I was very interested to watch this movie.


The soundtrack is a wealth of intelligently chosen musical pieces - although at first they may seem like odd choices, they do actually work. For example, who'd have thought that ABBA's "Chiquitita" would work for a harrowing scene where a building is set on fire and a man gets severely burnt? It's pure genius.
I also love how music isn't always used. Some scenes are better because of it. Silence is powerful, and this film proves it better than most.

The use of colour is amazing. Maybe I'm reading too much into it, but I love that particular scene where McDormand's character is getting interviewed in front of her billboards, and the red of the boards behind her just immediately ties to the subtle red of her shirt poking out from under her overalls. Or the scene where she's sitting outside talking to Woody Harrelson's character, and the shot isolates her so all you can see is the bright green of the land behind her and the blue of her overalls matching the piercing blue of her eyes. It's scenes like that that make me go "Wow", because I can tell that serious thought has gone into composing that shot. It's cinematic art, really. It's inspiring to watch.

The editing is also incredible. The dialogue is superb. The direction is flawless. Overall, the production of this film is absolutely brilliant.




The actors take on their characters with a shocking authenticity. They suck you right into their world, as if they're gripping you by your throat. They simply command the screen. And no one more than McDormand, who is every inch worthy of her Oscar win.

The characters are all well written. Everyone is three dimensional, everyone is real and human and deeply flawed and hurting, and they all have histories and pains and desires. There's also some top-notch character development. I love how we see the good and bad of every character, and how we watch the characters change and grow and learn. They're far from perfect, but they're human. They're antiheroes we can relate to.

It's breathtaking to watch these characters' personalities lead the plot. It's harsh and at the same time beautifully profound to watch McDormand and the writers encapsulate a woman's - a mother's - rage, and let its ripples loose on a torn up community. It's a rage so tangible and so well handled. It's thought-provoking, and it's relatable.

Relationships also play a big role in this story. There are plenty of messy, complicated dynamics between people, and these relationships are invaluable when it comes to the characters' roundness. They shape the characters, and the writers do an incredible job of showing character through the characters around the character. If that makes sense?




But as good as this movie is, it unfortunately also has its issues. I'm going to list them because it's the best way I can try to explain my thoughts.

- The ending. After an amazing movie, I was expecting an amazing ending. I was expecting to find out who had raped and killed the daughter, and I was expecting justice to be served. But maybe I was missing the point...

Honestly, I've been back and forth about this ending ever since I watched it. The way the film ends is this: Mildred and Dixon team up to go kill a suspected rapist, not the one who killed Mildred's daughter but who is definitely guilty of some crime involving another girl. While driving, however, they both admit to each other that they're not sure they'll be able to follow through. The film leaves us with that - with no conclusive answers, no justice, and no solutions.

My first reaction was one of fury. I didn't want to be left hanging, and I wanted to know who had raped and killed that poor girl. I wanted to know who he was and I wanted justice.  But since then, I've been thinking about the ending more and more. I've read articles, and I've read what the movie's writer has to say of how he ended his film: “It was about not wrapping up the story with a bow, not finding the solution and that person getting his comeuppance and all of that, because the story is more about change than it is about solutions.” 
He has a point. The characters in this movie do terrible things and they often aren't punished. Yet the movie never excuses this, never says that it's okay. The characters are people who deserve justice, but unfortunately, at this stage, we don't see them getting it. Solutions aren't given.
Looking at where Mildred and Dixon are at the end of the movie is quite astonishing; the two sworn enemies are actually talking, they're actually teaming up, and Dixon shows that he has a heart after all. As far as character goes, we're seeing incredible development. And maybe that's what the ending is about. It's about the characters finding a kind of peace within a terrible situation and it's about them changing.

On one hand, I respect how it ended and I can totally see what the writer was trying to do. On the other hand, it is still a movie, and a movie tells a story. A story has a beginning, a middle, and an end, and a story should follow through on the promises it's made to an audience. The way this movie leaves it, the story is incomplete. We still don't know who killed the daughter, and we don't know what the two main characters are going to do about it. Is it satisfying? No. But have the characters growth and changed, while the world's still trash around them? Yes. 

-  Unrealistic no consequences. In the film, Dixon beats a man and tosses him out of a window. He also punches a woman in the face. In both cases, his actions are exposed to a gathered crowd, including the police chief. Another scene in the movie has Mildred setting fire to the police building, which so happens to have Dixon inside of it (he survives, but is badly burned). In this case, the police chief asks Mildred and another man on the scene - not in so many words -  if they were involved. They give a weak excuse. And that's that. The chief doesn't push it further.

Now that's just plain unrealistic. Dixon beating a man and hitting a woman is assault, and yet he's not even arrested. The worst thing that happens is that he's fired from his job as a cop. That's it. But he beats these two people up in front of witnesses and the incident is totally glossed over! That is not realistic! Putting aside the fact that yes, we would've liked to have seen him arrested (again, the movie isn't so much about solutions, so while it never excuses the bad behaviour, it doesn't always punish it), it's unrealistic because there's no reason why the police chief didn't arrest him. We're not even given a reason why he might've been let off. Same with Mildred's setting fire to the building. Any good police chief would not have let her weak alibi slide, he would've pressed further. But in this instance, he doesn't! I can look past the fact that their actions should've been punished, but I find it hard to look past the fact they weren't. If that makes sense? Within the story, the no-consequences just isn't sold well.



Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an intense, gritty drama that hooks you from its opening scene. It's fueled by well rounded characters and topical issues, and is brilliantly written and stunningly presented. 
But the ending is inconclusive. There are also a number of small issues that take away from the otherwise solid story.

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