By Espie Angelica A. De Leon
As I write my review today, the movie has racked up Best Picture wins from the Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, and the British Academy of Film and Television Arts (BAFTA), among others.
I hope it keeps its winning streak as the 90th Academy Awards, or simply the Oscar, gets underway.
Yes, I am obviously rooting for “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” to snatch up the 2018 Oscar Award for Best Picture.
There are two reasons for this: the actors and the screenplay.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, the movie revolves around Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) whose teenage daughter Angela was raped and murdered seven months earlier. Her perpetrators have not been identified, causing unfathomable anguish in Mildred’s heart.
To alarm police authorities and prompt them into action, she rents three unused giant billboards outside her town of Ebbing and mounts the words, “Raped While Dying”, “And Still No Arrests?”, and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” in succession for everyone to see.
And the police authorities do see these words on the billboards, driving the violent Police Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) seething mad at Mildred and at Red Welby, the young man whose office rents out the billboards. Chief of Police Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) himself gets disappointed by Hayes’ action but maintains that they have not arrested anyone because there are no leads. The DNAs don’t match, he tells Mildred.
What follows are events reflecting the characters’ deep-seated anger, grief, frustration, pain, helplessness, and thirst for revenge. But somewhere along the way, there is remorse, forgiveness, and redemption as well.
It turns out that the story is not as simple as it seems and the characters not at all one-sided.
Hayes is not just your typical grieving mother who demands answers about her daughter’s murder and the ultimate arrest of her attackers. She is also a separated woman whose ex-husband is violent. Plus, she is nursing feelings of guilt over Angela’s demise, with mother and daughter having fought on the day of her murder and the former telling the young girl she hopes she gets raped.
Dixon is not just the brusque, destructive cop that he is. He is also a racist, a mama’s boy, and utters snide remarks about homosexuals and midgets. Deep inside, Dixon is a human being who has a dream – that of being a detective. Plus, his father passed away, leaving him to care for his elderly mother.
There‘s also more to Willoughby. Not only is he the well-loved sheriff in Ebbing, Missouri whose name is written on one of the billboards outside town; he also suffers from pancreatic cancer. Hence, his agony straddles three issues in his life: his health, the unsolved case of Angela Hayes, and the humiliation brought about by the billboards. And, barring the Angela Hayes crime that has become a cold case, Willoughby is actually a good man who is doing his job.
Caught up in the middle of these storms are Mildred’s son Robbie, ex-husband Charlie, friends Denise and James, Willoughby’s wife and daughters, Dixon’s mother, Welby, and all the other characters.
McDonagh splendidly throws in this assortment of characters, issues, and emotions into the script to masterfully create one cohesive, beautiful, and heart-wrenching story. Other writers may find it a daunting task to weave a solid narrative out of all these complex characters and side stories. But McDonagh delivered.
His script grabs the viewer right at the opening scenes when Mildred stares at the three bare billboards from her car and goes straight to the office that rents them out. Right away, she pays Welby for one month’s worth of rentals and gives him the words that will be posted on the boards. You bet Mildred Hayes is dead serious about putting up some signs on them, to Welby’s utter disbelief.
This is just the beginning of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” After the opening scenes, the viewer is taken in for a ride. And that ride will not merely dart through the story of a mother in agony and a police force that seemingly sleeps on the job. The ride will make all those necessary turns and detours to reach the hearts and minds of its characters and plumb deeper into the depths of their pain and anger.
And the actors show it.
Frances McDormand scores another tour de force performance with her sensitive portrayal of Mildred Hayes. She may be tough looking but McDormand shows us that as a mother, Mildred is soft. She takes us inward into the deepest ends of Mildred’s emotions to reveal what goes on in the mind and heart of a grieving parent amid her child’s unsolved murder and the police’s seeming nonchalance. McDormand achieves this not just through her dialogues but also through her facial expressions. Her portrayal is simply cathartic.
Another stellar performance is turned in by Sam Rockwell. As Police Officer Jason Dixon, he transitions from being a rude, violent, and revengeful cop to a remorseful and mild-mannered guy later in the movie. Such transformation is not awkward and forced at all, thanks to Rockwell. He executes Dixon’s transition with such aplomb, it teases the viewer to cheer for this changed man.
Both McDormand and Rockwell have been notching up victories as well for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor. The only thing missing as of today are their Oscar trophies.
Harrelson as Willoughby is exceptionally brilliant in the scene where he spits out blood and splatters it all over Mildred’s face as they talk inside the police station. Both are stunned and the sheriff apologizes and convinces Mildred that it wasn’t deliberate.
Also worth mentioning is Peter Dinklage who plays Hayes’ suitor James. Appearing in only a few scenes, Dinklage nevertheless manages to turn in a memorable portrayal.
Later in the movie, Willoughby’s earlier conversation with Hayes about DNA matching ties up with a lead that Dixon stumbles upon in a bar. I thought this was another brilliant element of McDonagh’s screenplay.
I like the ending of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Some may not like this sort of ending, preferring something with finality and closure instead. But for me, it depicts reality — a reality that we frown upon, but makes us smile just the same because, in the case of Dixon and Hayes, hope remains.
May 2018 Health and Lifestyle