The LAMB Devours the Oscars 2018: Best Picture Nominee: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

by Jay Cluitt · February 24, 2018 · Featured, LAMB Devours the Oscars · 4 Comments

Every day until the Oscars ceremony we’ll be highlighting a different category or movie here on the LAMB! Here’s a link to all the posts written so far:

Today, Audrey Fox from 1001 Movies and Beyond is here to look at another Best Picture nominee, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

There is a scene in Fiddler on the Roof where the father, Tevye, is arguing with himself about whether or not God wants him to maintain a relationship with his daughters, who have each broken with tradition in their choice of husbands. He keeps coming up with an argument, then saying, “but on the other hand…”. That’s sort of how I have felt thinking about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. There are some things that it does extraordinarily well, but at the same time, it makes some narrative choices that are…regrettable.

The performances here are by any metric beyond reproach. Frances McDormand, now long overdue for her first Oscar since Fargo, puts in a blistering performance as a rage-filled, grieving mother trying to bully her local police department into finding the man who raped and murdered her teenage daughter. There is fury in her eyes, the kind that McDormand is particularly well known for, and a certain no nonsense attitude that she often brings to the table. But there’s also vulnerability and an overwhelming sense of sadness. This is a woman who is being kept alive by her anger.

Woody Harrelson brings charisma and an easygoing, good guy vibe to Chief Willoughby, a role that the audience is prepared to regard as the villain of the piece. Let’s also not forget two more names that seem to be popping up all over the place this year: Lucas Hedges and Caleb Landry Jones. Both are extraordinary in roles that likely would have been overlooked in the hands of lesser actors.

And then there’s Sam Rockwell, in a role that has garnered him the most critical attention of his career, as the dumb, violent, erratic, racist cop Dixon. So what do we do with the role he’s asked to play here? Many would argue that a character like this, with a history of being in the “people of color torturing business” and an on-screen predilection for throwing people out windows, getting a redemption arc is maybe not a great look for 2018. Regardless of the writer/director’s intentions, it does feel a bit wearying that this type of white man, both on screen and in real life, always seems to have an unlimited reserve of second chances.

The film clearly intends for its audience to regard Dixon with a certain amount of pity alongside the distaste one inherently feels for the character. And while for the most part it succeeds in leading us down a path where we experience a complicated emotional response to Dixon, thanks to an excellent performance from the always reliable Rockwell, many audience members may do so begrudgingly. Why are we all once again being asked to root for this type of man to redeem himself when he might just be a lost cause? It’s to the film’s credit that as the film ends, things are not all wrapped up in a neat little bow for Dixon. He may make peace with himself, but there’s no way of knowing how his actions will have ultimately affected his place within their small community.

Peace is a hard fought prize in this film, with almost all of the main characters desperately seeking to find something to make it through their various trials and tribulations. They don’t always succeed. In fact, more often than not they fail. Victory is not in the cards for any of these people. But they find a way to make life bearable on their own terms, which means a different thing for each of them.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri succeeds where it relies on the performances of its remarkably talented cast. Despite occasionally problematic narrative choices, writer/director Martin McDonagh builds a compelling film with engaging dialogue (it brings to mind a more grounded Tarantino script, the wit with none of the smug self-awareness), competent direction, and by addressing head on feminine anger and demands for accountability that feel particularly relevant in a post #MeToo society.

What do you think of Three Billboards‘ chances at the Best Picture award?

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