Perspective Red Letters Visuals Words

Three Billboards Outside Silva North Carolina

Nit­pick­ing the reck­less­ness of last year’s high­ly-award­ed, class-blind black com­e­dy.
Indeed, it may be the time to jab at the rur­al, work­ing-class South, but Mar­tin McDon­agh claims to have writ­ten his Gold­en Orb Spe­cial eight years ago,” long before Tump, and any crit­i­cal res­o­lu­tion the film pro­vides is argued hap­haz­ard­ly. Con­se­quent­ly, its eye is cast on this strange, satir­i­cal por­tray­al of the Mid­west in a man­ner which is inac­cu­rate and insen­si­tive enough to irk this Mis­souri­an. When I saw it at Columbia’s Rag­tag Cin­e­ma this week, it was intro­duced by a young employ­ee who not­ed that 1) Ebbing, Mis­souri is not a real place, 2) the film was actu­al­ly shot in one of the Car­oli­nas (an audi­ence mem­ber sug­gest­ed incor­rect­ly that it was in SC,) and 3) we should pre­pare our­selves to be roused a bit by a bar scene in which a char­ac­ter pays $8 for two beers because that just wouldn’t hap­pen” (the Rag­tag also serves alco­hol.)
 
The redemp­tion arc” of the racist hick” los­er” Offi­cer Dixon (Sam Rock­well) was right­ful­ly at the cen­ter of the film’s con­tro­ver­sy, but even if one imag­ines his role and fate writ­ten dif­fer­ent­ly - per­haps with him irrecov­er­ably shunned and/or vis­i­bly pun­ished for his exces­sive, hate­ful vio­lence - his rubish­ness would still be unfor­giv­able. Liv­ing with his moth­er and tur­tle feels like an effort to human­ize him - and, by exten­sion, racist small-town cops as a whole. The Huff­in­g­ton Post’s Zeba Blay wrote an essen­tial take on why Three Bill­boards - with its ter­ri­fy­ing­ly racist dork - was received the way it was.
Rockwell’s char­ac­ter is the racist uncle whom white lib­er­als fear and love. The abil­i­ty to feel for him ― to root for him in spite of his past trans­gres­sions, because he real­ly is a “good man at heart,” an idiot who doesn’t know any bet­ter ― offers a kind of cathar­sis for the white view­er who can’t or won’t deal with true nuance, who is unable to rec­on­cile their own com­plic­i­ty with their desire to be “good.”
It’s not as if the film isn’t tech­ni­cal­ly well exe­cut­ed or refresh­ing - thanks in large part, yes, to Frances McDor­mand - or that I will not regret appeal­ing on behalf of my home state, but it’s hard not to speak up when Hol­ly­wood shits so reck­less­ly on my peo­ple. I don’t much like writ­ing about movies because there are so many voic­es who con­sis­tent­ly speak so much more effec­tive­ly. NPR’s Pop Cul­ture Hap­py Hour, for instance, did a won­der­ful job dis­sect­ing the film’s depic­tions of racism and domes­tic vio­lence. Gene Dem­by com­ment­ed that [McDon­agh] doesn’t get these par­tic­u­lar physics of Amer­i­can racism, and he’s not inter­est­ed in them,” and I think it’s rea­son­able to sug­gest that Mark’s not very versed or inter­est­ed in the physics of Amer­i­can class, either.
 
If you must dif­fer­en­ti­ate the state of Mis­souri as a cul­tur­al whole between North and South, it is cur­rent­ly more red than blue - we went 56% for Don­ald and 38% for Hillary - but ask any­one from some­where down in the Geor­gia, Flori­da, Alaba­ma cor­ner” - as McDon­agh put it - where we gen­er­al­ly fall, and they’d be unlike­ly to regard us, fra­ter­nal­ly, as the same part of the coun­try. The accents in Three Bill­boards are not among the wide vari­ety of local dialects you’ll encounter any­where in the state, but per­haps they wouldn’t be out of place in Syl­va, North Car­oli­na, where the film was actu­al­ly shot.

Regard­less of all poten­tial crit­i­cism of the film’s cul­tur­al per­spec­tive or tech­ni­cal excel­lence - and I think most of it is more valid than any take I could pos­si­bly offer - my par­tic­u­lar issue with it comes from a cul­mi­na­tion of taste­less deci­sions. If one rea­son­ably suc­cess­ful Irish direc­tor were to pro­duce a patron­iz­ing film at the expense of Missouri’s work­ing class filled with a ton of absurd, mis­con­strued char­ac­ters por­trayed by A-list tal­ent on loca­tion in a real Mis­souri town, the side-effec­tu­al eco­nom­ic ben­e­fits such a pro­duc­tion deliv­ers to a locale would make it all more for­giv­able. Say what you want about us… as long as you’re pay­ing. But to pho­to­graph such a film com­plete­ly sep­a­rate Mis­souri - cul­tur­al­ly and finan­cial­ly - set in a fictional(ized) town, include the state’s name in its title, before con­duct­ing one­self in inter­views as if we were a ran­dom tar­get on a South­ern” dart­board… Well, that’s awful­ly shit­ty.
 
Boy, work­ing class Amer­i­cans sure are a riot!
 
The writ­ing is inter­est­ing enough for this, total­ly-out-of-touch review­er,” but I can’t imag­ine why it won Best Screen­play at the Globes, unless the oth­er nom­i­nees were com­plete­ly, bleak­ly pre­dictable. (I wouldn’t know.) The excerpt below (SPOILER WARNING I GUESS? LOL) was the most stir­ring part of the expe­ri­ence, per­son­al­ly, if only because I real­ly like films that palm strike one in the face with­out warn­ing with bizarre, chaot­ic vul­gar­i­ty (like the ele­va­tor scene in Dri­ve.)
I sup­pose it could have been the result of a ratio­nal deci­sion to give any depth to Anne (Abbie Cor­nish) - who is Chief Willoughby’s (Woody Fuck­ing Har­rel­son) Aus­tralian?, much-too-attrac­tive wife - before he kills him­self in the last third of the movie, mak­ing her sud­den­ly rel­e­vant. Or, per­haps it was anoth­er attempt to empha­size the emo­tion­al repres­sion of South­ern” folks - one of the almost-accu­rate pos­i­tives of the film, if only thanks to McDormand’s skill. She and Sam Rock­well won Best Actress and Best Actor in a Sup­port­ing Role, respec­tive­ly, which makes sense - it’s a shame they accept­ed such an out-of-touch work with which to demon­strate their abil­i­ty to assume aloof, emo­tion­al­ly-dys­func­tion­al char­ac­ters.
 
Grow­ing up astride class­es while trav­el­ing through­out the vast major­i­ty of Mis­souri for var­i­ous rea­sons has made me defen­sive, and - while my right to speak for hard-work­ing Mid­west­ern­ers is cer­tain­ly debat­able - I’d sug­gest the indus­try at large be more dili­gent­ly inter­est­ed when set­ting is espe­cial­ly empha­sized. It is no longer accept­able to pass up the oppor­tu­ni­ties McDon­agh has for crit­i­cal sto­ry­telling in Three Bill­boards. Racist cops, abu­sive spous­es, unsolved mur­ders, and mis­han­dled grief are real, abun­dant issues in the country’s bread­bas­ket, and they’re worth dis­cussing respon­si­bly - espe­cial­ly with such a pow­er­ful plat­form. If the pur­pose of film writ­ing is to help an audi­ence deter­mine whether or not a work is worth spend­ing their time and mon­ey to see it in the­aters or oth­er­wise, I can tell you - even with­in my bias and lim­it­ed author­i­ty - that this one just… isn’t.
Edi­tor-in-Chief