Mild spoilers alert.
I’m just going to quickly share my thoughts on this film as well as the three central performances. As a whole, I thought Three Billboards was an interesting film that tried to address some of the prevalent racial and sexual issues today. It is a film about rage, and it explores it in different ways, be it Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand)’s grief over her murdered daughter, Dixon’s (Sam Rockwell) abrasive, violent and hateful personality. I can tell that it is also a film that stems from rage on the writer’s part, but I’m going to have to agree with the criticisms here. Firstly, it is extremely on-the-nose with the regards to the social issues it tries to address, with characters openly denouncing the incompetency and racism of the police force, or sexual violence against women. However, I could not help but feel that it stops at the characters’ denouncement, with no further exploration on the subject matter given. We know that Dixon allegedly tortured black people, but this was only mentioned in the beginning. Subsequently, we are given this redemption arc where he is transformed into a less hateful and more compassionate person, but this doesn’t address the racism issue at all. The screenplay is also a little uneven at parts, with scenes involving Mildred’s ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) and his new lover feeling somewhat…extra. I can also tell that no one is going for naturalism here since the dialogue is somewhat stylized, but it does feel like it is trying to be edgy at times with the excessive cussing. Overall, I still think it is a good, thought not perfect film that can really hit you emotionally, and it is primarily lifted by the strong performances by the actors. They really bring out the complexities of their parts, unafraid to make you dislike and yet sympathise with their characters at the same time. 3.5/5.
Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes (5/5) – Casting McDormand was the perfect choice if you ask me, because this lady is one of the best character actresses I’ve seen on screen, and only her can handle stylized and “quirky” characters while still giving them heart (See: Burn After Reading). In fact, over here, she goes a step further by fully inhabiting this role, and I really can’t imagine anyone, even Meryl Streep, playing it now. Mildred Hayes is perpetually angry throughout the film, but McDormand is never one note as she effectively highlights the complexity of her rage. We can see how her she is consumed by grief and guilt over the loss of her daughter, and how this manifested into an uncontrollable rage. McDormand shows how Mildred is perfectly aware of how irrational her actions are, such as her decision to shame Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) via the three billboards, and yet we can also see how she is at her wit’s end because of the lack of progress on the case. I like how she mixes in tender moments into the performance as well, such as her brief look of horror and concern when Willoughby accidentally coughs blood on her. Her mini monologue to the deer (Jee, The Queen?) was also spectacularly played, and we see a more vulnerable side to Mildred beneath the rage. Certain scenes were rather over-the-top, like she kicks 2 students in the groins for dirtying her car, but McDormand manages to not make it look ridiculous. There’s a lot to praise about her performance and I can go on and on about the many brilliant scenes, like the part where Mildred snaps and starts giving her bunny slipper voices as she plans to attack the police. The rage is never one-note, and we can see the arc that Mildred goes through as she finally learns to release some of the destructive anger and hatred that has been consuming her.
Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon (5/5) – Sam Rockwell’s has a somewhat problematic part due to the writing. It is a little superficial and simplistic for a dim-witted, racist and abusive cop learns to let go of his hate and go for love instead via a letter written by his former Chief. However, I think Rockwell really played the shit out of this role despite the problematic writing. He sells the redemption arc convincingly, however problematic it is. He goes from being extremely repulsive at one moment (like when he beats up and throws Red Welby out of the window), to sympathetic on the other hand (being controlled and ridiculed by his mother, crying as he apologies to Red) and even funny at times (listening and dancing to ABBA). It is a true testament to Rockwell’s acting abilities that he manages to sell these various traits of Dixon without making the viewers completely repulsed by him. This performance also made me more interested in learning more of Rockwell as an actor as he seems like a really talented and versatile one.
Woody Harrelson as Chief Willoughby (5/5) – Woody Harrelson is another brilliant actor whom I have really grown to like recently (I find his “happy hippie” persona hilarious) and it’s kinda strange to see how he plays a cruder version of Frances McDormand’s Fargo character here. Willoughby, as various characters in the film constantly mention, is truly a good guy at heart. His part is probably the most simple as compared to the other 2 characters as he doesn’t really have a character arc per se. Willoughby exists to serve as the moderating force in the story, providing a warm and kind balance to the destructive anger of Mildred and Dixon. We see him being a loving father to his kids and a highly respected man in the community, and even though the second half of his performance is merely made up of voiceovers, Harrelson’s delivery is filled with warmth, wisdom and kindness, playing a crucial role in making Mildred and Dixon’s arcs believable. His look of horror and guilt when he accidentally coughs blood on Mildred was utterly fantastic, and Harrelson really made me feel for Willougbhy in those few brief seconds. I might actually prefer this performance to Rockwell, but that’s ultimately due to my love for the character.
A bit of a rushed post, apologies, but I thought it was good to get my thoughts on the performances out of the way. Aiming to catch Lady Bird asap.