Ari Goes To: BFI London Film Festival 2017 – Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

I have so much to say about this film, let’s see if we can fit it in under 2000 words. Hella spoilers. Just letting you know. 


dir. Martin McDonagh

starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell

What a baller ass film.

This was the closing gala screening for the festival and I’ve been waiting all week to see this. I was so excited and was not disappointed.

Three Billboards is a dark (overtly and incredibly dark) comedy/thriller about a mother’s efforts to seek justice for her murdered daughter. It portrays a lot of complex relationships not only between mother and child, but also between men and women, community and authority, and most importantly pressure and justice.

I’d liken it to a Southern version of Gone Girl. It had a real Gone Girl feel to it–disturbing, but you can’t look away. It’s a great insight into trauma. I can’t imagine what it must feel like for a mother to lose a child, and this film not only pushes the boundary in how far someone will go processing their grief, as well as obviously seeking justice, it moves the boundary in and around, all over the place. It was great look at how the justice system often fails victims of violent sexual crimes, and definitely challenges the ethics surrounding the relationship between law enforcement and community.

I think it’s a lot of flawed characters at their most flawed, which must be the most interesting storytelling experience for the filmmakers, but endlessly fascinating as a viewer. You start rooting for people you don’t want to root for, or stop cheering on the people you thought you sided with. There are a lot of moral question marks throughout the film that get spun on it’s head and then made fun of.

It felt very real; things weren’t being tied up in neat little bows, even though that’s what the characters really craved. They craved closure and resolution but sometimes life doesn’t give it to you, so neither will the writers. Sometimes, it’ll come in forms you won’t expect; like teaming up with the officer originally obstructing your investigation, or a CGI dear (both of which occurred in the film).

We get a little Seven Psychopaths reunion by pairing Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson again. The performances were stunning. Every single last one of them. Frances McDormand was so powerful, she’s in nearly every scene and you just want more of her. Sam Rockwell’s character was a tit, but was somewhat redeemed in the end. Woody Harrelson was absolutely harrowing as Chief Willoughby (no pun intended); there was a very powerful sequence in the film where (SPOILERS) his character commits suicide after learning he’s going to lose his battle with a terminal illness. This film was also on a long list of films I’ve seen Caleb Landry Jones in over the last year. He’s very versatile in hindsight to all the roles he’s been doing this year. From creepy brother in Get Out to sweet, beat-up Billboard salesman in this film. There’s gratuitous comic relief via romantic desperation, courtesy of Tyrion Lannister himself, Peter Dinklage.

Structurally, I noticed that the film had this habit of burrowing into one storyline, especially a backstory, and pulling itself out pretty well to relate to the state of Mildred’s case. It’s not just about this mother and the loss of her daughter; whilst the film deals with grief in poignant and unabashed ways, it also deals with how grief can wash over an entire town. An entire community. By learning about how each separate character leads their life, as well as how they interact with one another, we get a glimpse into how strong or united a community can be. It’s an interesting subject to look at considering how the US have been more and more divisive lately within their own communities.

It’s a great insight into trauma. One plot line I want to look at specifically is Sam Rockwell’s character, Officer Dixon. I’m not about to defend Dixon, mind you he’s a tad racist, but it was interesting to see how they played him to be this sort of brash, violent, dumbass and then remind the audience that: “Oh, right, this dude’s got a little bit of brain in him; he’s a fucking cop.” Racist cops in film are fascinating to me because you don’t ever know where the line is drawn between humanizing a character, which is what they are characters, and humanizing the perception behind what their profession has been known to perpetuate. Hopefully that line is clearer to others as much as it is clear to me.

I said to myself in the theatre: “This is white people dealing with shitty cops.” We see Mildred’s co-worker, an African-American woman who deserved so much more screen time, get arrested in order to spook or get to Mildred. It’s just interested to see how this is something embedded in their society that no one really wants to talk about straight up. I don’t really know enough about race relations between the Whites and African-Americans in the United States to make a calculated response or statement to leave this thought at, but Dixon got what was coming to him: getting fired by a black police chief that he was rude to outside.

Mildred and Dixon have a cat-and-mouse like dynamic; but bordering more on Tom and Jerry with a dash of violent sabotage than Itchy and Scratchy. Wait. They’re a lot more like Itchy and Scratchy, who am I kidding; they’re way more violent and T&J. There’s a sequence, one of my favorites in the whole film, where Mildred sets the police station on fire with Molotov cocktails whilst Dixon is inside reading the letter Willoughby left him. It gave this other dimension to Mildred that needed a lot of digging to get to, and I think would’ve been hard to pull off with a different actress.  We’ve seen Mildred and the kind of mother she is, she feels guilty for being a shitty mom, but at the same time we see her tenacity as an insight to what a great woman she really is. And then she burns the station down, deforming Dixon, and later teams up with him; she keeps playing this card, almost like a victim card, when she knowingly has caused another person pain. Dixon gracefully responds with: “who else would it be?” putting Mildred back golden in our eyes.

It’s that whole thing of how the writing is so careful and with so much depth that you’re drawn, almost pulled to every single one of the main characters.

I think the big takeaway from this film is how far will you go? How far will you go to get justice? How far will you go to redeem yourself? How far will you go to avoid or face grief head on?

All in all, I’m sure this film is an awards contender. If it isn’t, awards are stupid anyway. This film is brilliantly heart wrenching, and comedically gut-wrenching.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri hits UK cinemas on January 12th, 2018.


Reflection: 

Two for two! You go, girl! I hope to look back on that ‘you go, girl’ as ironic in a few years time. But I am proud of myself for powering through. It’s nice and I think essential for the creative process, especially now in Script term, that I get to take a break and explore other forms of writing to hone in my craft over all. This was alright. I like this one. I liked this film a lot. I hope I’ll be able to update this post in the future with a more visual analysis once I’ve seen the film a few more times. 

–a

Published by Ariane Anantaputri

sharpay evans sympathiser. screenwriter & stand-up comedian. this is where i talk about movies and my mental health.

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