Review : Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

I’m always playing catch up when it comes to Oscar nominees. This is the only Best Picture nominee that I have actually seen yet, despite all my best intentions. The kind of anticipation I had for this movie was more like wariness – I knew it was going to be depressing, so I wasn’t really looking forward to it. But I’m so glad I went.

This movie has weathered a lot of criticism, despite a 93% Rotten Tomatoes rating. I’m going to talk about some of that below, so warning – there will be spoilers, so maybe only read this if you’ve already seen the movie.

A lot of people said that the film felt more like a play. This is true, but I don’t necessarily think it’s a bad thing – in fact, it was kind of intriguing. It made good use of the kind of super-close, intimate acting that suits movies, and the setting and characters reveled in their own gritty realism. But the structure was very play-like, which was intriguing. It kind of gave me vibes of one of Sam Shepard’s plays.

About Sam Rockwell’s character – the criticism that was leveled here was completely unwarranted, and I’m about to explain why, at length, so stay tuned.

Jason Dixon is a racist. This is undeniable. It serves to place his character in an uncomfortable place where you revile him for his views and actions, feel sorry for him for his limited prospects, feel pity for his pathetic predicament, and also feel glad for his actions towards the end. I think he is a very well written character because he makes you so uncomfortable – he contains multitudes, he is a walking contradiction, he can’t be categorized as strictly good or bad – and all of that makes him so much more real than a character that is a hundred percent evil at all times.

I think we have reached a point as a society where people are having serious issues seeing anything other than black and white. There are so many shades of grey. A racist is a racist, and they should never be applauded or admired for that, but it doesn’t mean that they are like an evil cartoon character who isn’t also capable of doing something good once in a while. There was so much criticism of how a racist character isn’t “deserving” of a redemption arc, but isn’t that the character that needs it most of all? If we wrote off every racist as irredeemable, we might as well just bomb the whole world and call it a day on the human race. It seems like it would be much more useful to think of racists with a growth mindset – maybe they just don’t know any better, maybe they are scared, maybe they can change, maybe they can learn, maybe they can do better… and they are probably more likely to do these things if they are presented with positive leadership by example.

I felt similar feelings when there was the furor about The Handmaid’s Tale including black women, and completely erasing the fact that Gilead was meant to be white supremacist as well as deeply misogynistic. The director of the show said something like that he didn’t see the difference between making a show about racism and a racist show. Except that things like racism need to be depicted on screen, otherwise it is being erased and swept under the rug. People need to see depictions of terrible things so that we can make our judgments about how terrible they are – ignoring them or shying away from these representations is basically saying “racism doesn’t exist”, when it surely does, it needs to be seen so that we can make a judgment about it being a bad thing. Some of the criticism of Three Billboards felt like… people would have rathered that Jason Dixon was either politically correct in every way, or that he didn’t exist. But of course he exists – he is probably like hundreds or thousands of small town cops in America. People need to see that. There is no use acting like every person on screen needs to be a hundred percent likeable or politically correct in order to be a valuable part of the plot.

Anyway, all of that aside, Sam Rockwell’s acting was so good. Even though Best Actor/Actress is considered more prestigious than Supporting Actor/Actress, I actually thought he was better than Frances McDormand – even though she was amazing too. I just loved the way that you felt so much for Jason Dixon, even when those feelings violently opposed each other. His character was such a tragedy.

I would recommend this movie – I’ve already told Nathan and Mum that they have to see it – but I don’t think I will be wanting to watch it again in a hurry. It was depressing. I went to see it during the daytime, so there were a bunch of (rude) seniors there who seemed to think that they were there for a comedy… and were quite disappointed when they walked out. Their loss. What we did see was something bleak, uncomfortable and unrelentingly bitter, but I’m glad I saw it.

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