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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Steven - AV March 09, 2018

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is supposed to be about righteous anger—in response to the killing of her daughter and the subsequent lack of progress on the murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) buys space on the eponymous billboards to take the local police to task. In this, the film mostly works. Mildred has been driven to the point where she doesn’t care about much of anything besides her towering rage, leading to hilarious verbal attacks on anyone who insists on her silence. One such character, however, is a racist, drunken, dopey cop called Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell). Over the course of the film, Dixon threatens people and assaults them and generally abuses his power, and writer/director Martin McDonagh infantilizes him to drum up sympathy despite his reprehensible actions. We are meant to take the fact that he reads comic books and lives with his overbearing mother and that his considerable stupidity is played for laughs as proof that his bad behavior doesn’t define who he is, that the police chief (Woody Harrelson) has it right when he insists Dixon, deep down, is a good man. This—making abusers palatable to the audience rather than saying anything about the film’s other victims—is McDonagh’s ridiculous idea of moral complexity; though Mildred is a survivor of domestic abuse, the people who suffer at Dixon’s hands are no more than props who either go unnamed or disappear from the film once they’ve served their purpose. The insistent mockery of a dwarf character (Peter Dinklage) is meant to be funny. Even Mildred's murdered daughter has only one scene. Inaction and the expectation of silence are the things that enrage Mildred in the first place, and McDonagh plays into both by ignoring so many other victims in his preoccupation with Dixon and even with Mildred, who he seems to focus on less because of her motivation to speak out than because she has the extravagant, seriocomic means to do so. Overall Rating: D+

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