Three Billboards starts off as what an audience would expect from a film about the aftermath of a murder case. It’s dark, painful and razor sharp. The comedy is the same. This dramedy film continually surprised me and its playing with what audiences expect to happen is what makes Three Billboards such essential viewing this year. It doesn’t pull any punches, nor does it miss the mark on any occasion. It makes pertinent points about racism, police brutality, victimhood and the realities of the criminal justice system. With its setting in the deep south, Three Billboards can and does make points about both how forwards and backwards America really is as a society.
The film also focuses on the difference between justice and punishment, especially focusing on the police force. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are the two main members of the force that we meet, and whilst they perform in essence ‘Good Cop, Bad Cop,’ the movie points out how neither of them are good at their jobs or as people. The movie doesn’t excuse institutional racism or police brutality- in one, brutal scene, we see how hair trigger a person really can be- but it shows how cops become that way and how America is able to excuse it. Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are excellent as the local police force, and Sam Rockwell particularly impressed me with how well he conveyed his character, who is easily the most dislikeable in the whole cast. The most likeable, is easily Peter Dinklage, whose character has a crush on Mildred (McDormand’s character.) His character is charming to watch in the way he interacts with Mildred, but that’s not to say that his role is one note. He has one of the more complex characters in the film, and brief his appearance may be, they have some of the most impact.
Frances McDormand is the backbone of the movie and its foremost character. The rest of the cast is superb in this movie, but she far outstrips them. Her character is admirable in the way she speaks her mind – with stunning comedic effect – as the lone voice in a town against the revered chief of Police (Woody Harrelson) and does not shy away in taking action, but McDormand is also able to convey the vulnerabilities of her character in a single line or shot. She is a grieving mother, for all her bravado. What Three Billboards succeeds at the most, is reminding us of the effect that death – especially violent death – has on a family and on an individual, and how quickly the rest of the world can forget that.
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