Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri written and directed by Martin McDonagh (Blueprint Pictures, Film 4, Fox Searchlight Pictures, R, 115 min)
Starring Frances McDormand, Caleb Landry Jones, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, and Peter Dinklage.
The term magnetic paints an evocative picture about a personality. From a young age, magnetism draws puerile fascination. Magnets make scientists out of us all.
We place them farther and farther apart hoping to see where the magical pull finally loses its sway. We change dimension, trying to understand how a magnet can pull against gravity as an equal and opposite force.
We add velocity to magnets, hoping to understand whether inertia holds more influence than the force clamping the magnets together.
And then, often by mistake, we flip the magnets and then no matter the attempt, the magnets divorce, as if retching at the very thought of contact with another.
To me, magnetism has this equal and opposite influence. A magnetic personality defines those traits which draw people into spheres of interaction.
But for a personality to embody magnetism, it must also repulse.
The Magnetism of Three Billboards
Having finally viewed Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I see the elements that have caused such polarity in its critical reception.
Whether one likes the film or finds it distasteful, the magnetic acting of Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell is the one thing upon which we can all agree.
The energy and fierce fullness by which the two actors portray their characters offers a fascinating look to two not-so-normal people. But, I can also see how they could be considered an acquired taste.
The Grieving Mother and the Object of Her Scorn
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri tells the story of a grieving mother, frustrated with the inactivity of local police. Seeing no momentum in the case of her daughter’s brutal murder, Mildred (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards outside of town and plasters the banners with provocative statements aimed at lighting a fire under the ass of the local police chief, Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).
The billboards do the trick—causing a media firestorm and adding pressure to the local police department.
While Chief Willoughby tries to take a diplomatic approach with Mildred, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), takes offense to just about everything. Racist and not nearly bright enough to see he’s often the butt of the joke, Dixon picks fights with everyone and creates a tenser environment.
Three Billboards illustrates the unraveling of a town between the mother seeking justice and the police hoping to keep the peace, in the southern grotesque fashion.
Evaluating the Pull of the Film
Honestly, the story itself feels average. The premise intrigues but the direction and plotting leave much on the table.
The film earned its Oscar buzz on the performances of McDormand and Rockwell. In both cases, the actors eschew subtlety for quirky, over-the-top characters. Both act in the fine lines between comedic and eccentric.
Whether you like it or not likely emerges from the magnetism you feel for these characters. If they draw you in, Three Billboards is a fascinating watch. If they repel you, then Three Billboards might’ve been the worst film of last year.
Count me on the side of magnetism, but a dusty old magnet that doesn’t hold as tightly as it once did. Three Billboards entertained and I enjoyed the performances, but the story just didn’t hold its weight for me to consider it a classic.
Verdict: 3 out of 5