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‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ tells a unique story with troubling aspects

| Monday, January 22, 2018

JOSEPH HAN | The Observer

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is the Golden Globe winning crime drama that proves to be much more than a simple story. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the picture offers a look at rural America and the problems that plague it. While the movie features accomplished actors and an interesting perspective, the plot has some troubling aspects.

The story is centered around Mildred Hayes (Francis McDormand), a no-nonsense woman who rents three billboards with bold statements on them to express her dissatisfaction with the inadequate police work surrounding her daughter’s rape and murder seven months earlier. The billboards cause a stir in the small town of Ebbing, Missouri, as chief of police William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his incompetent force attempt to convince Hayes to take down the giant signs. Unlike most crime dramas, the movie is much more focused on the fallout from, and reactions to, the inflammatory billboards rather than finding the perpetrator of the appalling crime.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is supported by a cast of renowned actors. McDormand won the Golden Globe for Best Actress in a Motion Picture (Drama) for her brilliant portrayal of Mildred Hayes. Sam Rockwell, who played the movie’s deeply problematic antagonist Officer Dixon, received the Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture.

Harrelson delivered an excellent performance as law enforcement officer Chief Willoughby, who struggled to fight both cancer and Hayes’ crusade for justice. Lucas Hedges filled the role of troubled teenager Robbie Hayes, Mildred’s only son. Hedges’ character was reminiscent of those he portrayed in “Manchester by the Sea” and “Ladybird.” “Game of Thrones” star Peter Dinklage held the minor part of James, a town resident who attempts to court the divorced Hayes.

The way in which each character handles tragedy and death manifest throughout the film. Hayes finds herself constantly reflecting on her daughter’s savage murder and clings to the hope that she will find justice in what appears to her to be a cruel world. Hayes’ ex-husband, played by John Hawkes, runs away from the catastrophe by furthering his romantic relationship with a 19-year-old former zookeeper played by Samara Weaving. The young woman adds dashes of comic relief in multiple scenes to break up the otherwise intense emotion.

Officer Dixon, the crooked cop, lashes out with excessive brutality and violence after the suicide of one of his colleagues. His character presents a number of problematic issues within the film. It is established early in the film that Officer Dixon is a racist accused of abusing his authority and torturing a black prisoner. However, the only police brutality displayed by the vicious cop is against a white advertising man who has rented the billboards to Hayes. In the story, Dixon does not face the consequences for his racist and uncontrollably violent ways. After narrowly surviving a fire and purposely losing a fight, Dixon is presented as a troubled man struggling to find love within himself. The audience is expected to have sympathy for Dixon, who is meant to have achieved redemption despite never showing repentance for his racist ways and not being properly reprimanded for his attack on a civilian.

With the Oscar nominations being released on Jan. 23, many cinema fans wonder if the films mishandling of racism and police brutality will prevent “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” from securing a second best film award.

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