Sunday night was the annual BAFTA film awards and it was the usual mixture of glitz, glamour, and massively unnecessary shade. Now, obviously, as a sane young woman I am a massive fan of the whole Times Up and #metoo movement. However, there was a lot of over-the-top bitchiness that appears to have come out of the ceremony. The first, regarding the Kate Middleton’s dress is insane. Surely, as a royal, she wouldn’t have been allowed to make any outright statement by wearing a black dress. She did, however, get pretty damn close to the colour women were wearing in solidarity to the movement, so I think we know where she stands. Number 2, Salma Hayek. I’ve been thinking about this a lot since I read about her introduction to the Best Actor category and I’m still dumbfounded by it. I don’t really see what her point was. She went in knowing she was going to present an award to a man yet decided to make a pointless and ineffective protest about men whilst doing it. It wasn’t a powerful message and, if anything, damaged the movement by making it seem like women are standing up against men in general. It adds to all the talk of “witch hunts” and, quite frankly, was a dick move in relation to the winner. Gary Oldman deserved his moment to win an award that was and always has been gender specific. Natalie Portman had a great point at the Golden Globes when she bitched about the all male Best Director category; Salma Hayek looked like a fucking idiot to be protesting a man winning a male only award.
But that’s not the reason I’m here: I’m here because I have crossed another film off of the list of unseen Best Film Oscar nominations. It was also the film that has been causing a stir recently; all the more now it has won 5 awards at the BAFTAs. I’ve wanted to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for ages because I’ve loved Martin McDonagh’s previous work. In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths were both great films and really funny dark comedies. His latest film tackled big subject matters like sexual assault, race, and issues with law enforcement. Despite getting great critical attention, since its numerous nominations nobody can really decide if it’s an insightful look at modern-day America or a completely misjudged commentary on important issues. It’s even been compared to 2004’s Best Film winner Crash, which is a pretty harsh thing to happen to most films let alone one with such an impressive cast.
So, why is Three Billboards creating so many issues? The story takes place months after the brutal rape and death of Angela Hayes. Her mother, Mildred (Frances McDormand) is desperate for answers but feels the Ebbing police force have given up. She pays advertising man Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) to rent three bilboards on the outskirts of town. She places three simple messages taunting the Chief of Police (Woody Harrelson) for failing to arrest anyone. Instead she sees the police as unstoppable beasts like Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who is able to carry out racist attacks on people in his custody without getting reprimanded. Unfortunately for Mildred, Chief Willoughby is dying from pancreatic cancer so the town doesn’t take too kindly to the reminder of his failings. Mildred and her family are ostracised by her neighbours and leads to arguments between her and her son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges). Instead of helping catch her daughter’s killer, Mildred ends up affecting the lives of everyone she knows.
Like every other Martin McDonagh film, Three Billboards is stuffed with profanity spouting and over-the-top characters that, underneath it all, have complex feelings. This is a film that celebrates dark humour but also deals with hard-hitting topics and issues. Even the most unlikable and outrageous characters show their softer side when necessary to show that humanity isn’t as black and white as we’d hoped. Sam Rockwell, who has deservedly been making noise during awards season, plays the racist police officer who, through his investigation into Angela’s death, finds some shred of emotion and must decide what kind of man he wants to be. He is angry and violent but, behind closed doors, he has a complicated relationship with his mother leading to his often aggressive immaturity. McDonagh doesn’t just create caricatures here; he creates unusual but deep portraits of real human psychologies. It might be a bit of a stretch at times but there is a reality to be found here.
Before I watched Three Billboards I really wanted to love it. It’s a shame, in a way, that I did so after it’s BAFTA win. Going into something that I’ve not just hyped myself but has been hyped by the British Film Academy was always going to difficult. I won’t say that I didn’t like the film because it’s certainly a spectacular experience. I just don’t think it did exactly what I wanted it to do. After watching so many great films recently, I was unconvinced by the decision that this was the best out there. It’s definitely no greater than either Lady Bird or The Shape of Water. The story is fantastic and the way it McDonagh approaches the issues are interesting. I just felt some things got lost along the way. There is so much going on that it all becomes a bit of a mess.
However, it is a beautifully shot and well-crafted film. It constantly walks the line between comedy and drama without ever really having to decide which it wants to be. It’s sad but, in its own way, uplifting. And is completely held together thanks to its fantastic ensemble cast. Every single person does great work here from the underused supporting characters, like Abbie Cornish and Amanda Warren, to the key players, like Woody Harrelson’s morally conflicted Chief. Each character, no matter how supposedly insignificant, has a great impact on the whole. However, it is McDormand and Rockwell who steal focus. Both actors have been deservedly recognised for their work and it’s fantastic to watch them go at each other. Rockwell is his usual frenetic self whilst McDormand is stoic and mesmerising. This is the perfect vehicle for her deadpan approach and she manages to say more without words than anyone could hope. I watched this film for the premise but it is Frances McDormand who saw me through the final scene. There is nothing I can say that would give her the credit she deserves so, in the spirit of Mildred Hayes, I’ll just shut up.