Simmering tensions in a small southern states town by Richard Jones

A look at Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (MA)…

3bFrances McDormand has always been a favourite actor of mine ever since her star turn in the Coen brothers’ Fargo.

In writer/director Martin McDonagh’s latest film she’s Mildred Hayes who is seeking some action from the local police on the seven month-old rape and murder of her teenage daughter.

She scrapes together a few thousand dollars by selling her estranged husband’s tractor and trailer and rents the three billboards on an isolated highway below her house.

Mildred uses the billboards to spell out a blunt message to the local police to do more to hunt down her daughter’s killer.

One of them proclaims a simple message in large red letters on a black background: Still No Arrests.

The townsfolk aren’t on her side it transpires and the local town sheriff (Woody Harrelson), who’s battling cancer, isn’t happy either.

The issue captures the attention of the local TV station and the signs feature on the local evening news bulletin.

You’ll have to be prepared for the constant use of four-letter words, including those referring to the anatomy, but then again it’s the Deep South and finesse and niceties aren’t part of conversations down there.

Mildred’s outspoken nature is given added weight when she berates the local Catholic priest who’s come to offer solace to her teenage son.

She hurls some choice language at the hapless priest. How can the church be so self-righteous when numerous clerics had abused altar boys for decade after decade, she thunders.

Gradually McDonagh shifts his focus away from Mildred’s righteous crusade to hone in on the dim-witted and racist sheriff’s deputy Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell).

Dixon has been under a cloud ever since he assaulted an African American prisoner held in Ebbing’s cells.

He also has a rather weird relationship with his mother (Sandy Martin) who’s a hard liquor-swigging true Southerner with all the built-in prejudices you’d expect.

It’s after Dixon has assaulted – and thrown through a first floor window – the advertising agency worker in charge of hiring out the district’s billboards that his time on the force is ended.

The sheriff collapses, is taken off to hospital and replaced by a senior African American officer. The new boss demands Dixon hand in his gun and badge and summarily stands him down.

Then develops the strangest of relationships. Dixon decides Mildred needs some help and one evening he overhears a conversation in his local town bar.

Two rednecks are discussing crime, and rape in particular, so the ex-copper goads the most outspoken into a fistfight.

Even though he sustains serious facial injures it’s all for a purpose.

Dixon goes home and in his mother’s bathroom he pincers off the skin and dried blood of his assailant and places it into a phial.

If the DNA for these samples match up with what is held on the Ebbing data base will Mildred and Dixon be able to track down the killer?

The query isn’t directly answered by McDonagh so we’re left to figure it out for ourselves. What we see in the movie’s closing frames are Mildred and Dixon piling into Mildred’s car.

Dixon has packed his shotgun and cartridges as the pair head off into the distance. All we know is that the state of Idaho is their ultimate destination.


2 thoughts on “Simmering tensions in a small southern states town by Richard Jones

  1. Thank you for the excellent writing about a film that is quite relevant in the US currently for reasons that are either implicit or explicit to the average viewer. I am reminded of the glut of “revenge flicks” that appeared during the 1970’s after it was clear that Americans had lost the misguided war in Vietnam. Rolling Thunder from 1977 with William Devane and Tommy Lee Jones captured the essence of this period; both characters were Vietnam veterans who felt empowered only after seeking revenge for the murder of Devane’s wife and son. In Trump’s America of 2018, many of us are also feeling marginalized after seeing a narcissist usurp the White House despite losing the election by three million votes; the will of the people was thwarted, as the feelings of impotence and loss have returned after it is also clear that Americans lost two(!) wars in the 21st century. Mildred and Dixon find themselves with similar feelings of loss after a daughter is murdered for one character and an identity/profession(police officer) is terminated for another. Despite the fact that the redneck from Idaho might not be responsible for the murder of Mildred’s daughter, the fact remains that revenge will be sought as an act of empowerment for two characters seeking any feeling that is tantamount to a victory. The conscience of the film is found in Woody Harrelson, and it is too heavy for him to carry; the result is his suicide, although the conscience of America has also either been murdered or killed itself during the era of Trump. How does it feel when you are held up, either for ransom or for petty robbery, without a gun? If you had the gun in your hand, where would you take aim when it is not clear as to the real enemy/villain who should and deserves to be shot? We find ourselves here in Trump’s America with a yearning to find the conscience of a local sheriff who committed suicide while knowing that homicide, any homicide, feels justifiable despite the veneer of residing in a “Christian” nation. Peace, love, forgiveness, tolerance, and compassion are supposed to be the five major tenets of Christianity; revenge is a viable replacement for many Americans when the teachings of Jesus Christ don’t precipitate the feeling of existential satisfaction. Also, let’s keep in mind that President Jimmy Carter is quite an analogy among Americans who claim to be Christians. This is Donald Trump’s America now, and all of us in the world will suffer the consequences of it.
    Paul Haider, Chicago

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