Hot Take: As well done as this film is, Ebbing, Missouri isn’t a town I would want to happen to pass through. It’s a broken town full of broken characters who are angry and flawed and the film is as thought provoking as any I’ve seen this year. It’s both dramatically gripping and comedically dark.
Perfect timing, excellent casting and a director with clout whose resume hasn’t been recognized the way some think it should might be the perfect storm for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to make a huge splash at this year’s Academy Awards. From a nomination perspective, Frances McDormand is a shoo-in for a Best Actress nomination and the film will easily scoop a Best Picture nomination. Martin McDonagh’s third film could score him two nominations (Best Screenplay and Best Director) and Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson could both find themselves in the Best Supporting Actor category. That’s potentially six nominations for a film that is likely going to benefit as much from timing as it does from quality. Why do I say that? Feel free to read on and find out.
Currently, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri sits fourth on my list of Top Movies of 2017 so I’m not saying the nominations aren’t warranted. If you’ve checked out the list, though, you’ll see that Wind River sits second on the list. The films have a very similar subject matter but a very different feel. Both are dark and contain a number of broken characters and the films are littered with great performances and helmed by talented directors. Yet Wind River came out in August and by now some Oscar voters have forgotten about the film. Not to mention how much these two films share in common when it comes to the central storyline and you’re just asking voters to forget about one great movie because of the presence of another. Again, that’s not necessarily Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri‘s problem, although if it would have chosen August as a release date, it could be. And that’s my point. While Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is in my top 10 at fourth, I could debate the next three films on the list being better (Baby Driver, A Ghost Story and The Disaster Artist) and that puts it at seventh with a month to go and some heavy hitters still yet to hit theaters. Meanwhile, I feel the already forgotten Wind River to be a substantially better film. It doesn’t have the shock value that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has but there’s more humanity and those that are flawed are on display in a more raw, less forgiving light than those characters in Three Billboards.
There’s something about the narrative that doesn’t sit right with me in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. While Sam Rockwell gives an impressive performance as a Barney Fife-type character — if Barney Fife were racist, violent, a drunk and lived with his equally racist and drunk momma — writer/director McDonagh has a lot of love and compassion for this character. It’s prevalent in the film’s exposition and throughout the storyline. It’s almost as if the film goes out of your way to feel sympathetic toward this character. Yet, within the first act, you’re asking yourself, “Why is this town so screwed up that this guy is allowed to be a cop?” This will be even more impactful for the Northeastern states that already look at the Midwest and the South and will put more weight on this being closer to reality. However, where we start at the beginning of the film (the untold backstory) feels very unacceptable and it’s told in such an awkwardly casual way that it left a bad taste in at least this viewer’s mouth.
So far this year, for my money, there have only been three unquestionably great films. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri falls just outside of that group. That’s not a bad thing and I highly recommend watching it. However, if this film were indeed able to go on and win Best Picture, I’d argue that it fall into the large group of films that has managed to win the Oscar by being very good and having impeccable timing.
“Spoiler Free” Pros
Those last few paragraphs are likely underselling anything great about this film but one thing that should not be undersold is McDormand’s performance. You get great insight on how broken, angry and flawed her character is and she brings it to life on the screen. As I’ve said for many others who I think are deserving of an Oscar nomination, it’s impossible to imagine this character being played by someone else once you see her do it.
- Can’t We Get Clarke Peters More Work?
While his role is small in the film, Peters was one of my favorite actors on The Wire, the greatest TV show of all-time. Blink and you might miss it but any time this talented actor gets work, I’m happy to watch it.
- There’s Something To Be Said About A Film That Can Get You To Laugh When You Feel Like You Shouldn’t
As serious as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is, there’s a number of comedic moments in it. You might feel a little uncomfortable when you laugh but that’s special when a film can pull that off.
“Spoiler Free” Cons
- How Would This Movie Do With A Second Viewing?
I frequently leave the theater asking myself if and when I could watch the film again. With Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I left wondering if the film would have the same impact now that I know so much.