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Oscar Nominated Film Review: "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

We saw “Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri,” starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. It has received seven Academy Award nominations, but five major award nominations for Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Original Screenplay, and two Best Supporting Actors for both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

I can totally see why. It is such a deserving film of the praise that it's gotten. I had never considered Frances McDormand to be an imposing or intimidating woman until this movie, and she was just so amazingly strong in the way she carried herself and in the way that she created that character.

 

Mark says

It's such an Americana kind of setting. It isn't a big city, doesn't have metropolitan values, it's not a culturally leading sort of place, but all of the characters who are in the film are all very fleshed out and believable and deliver what they need to deliver. There's no feeling that even very minor characters don’t all contribute something to the world of the city and the storyline. And I think that's pretty interesting because usually there are some weak interactions on a film that has so much going on. When there are so many backgrounds with all these different people, there will usually be things that are less important or things that contribute less to the storyline. But in this case I think everybody brings something important to the table.

 

Candice says

What I found that was interesting is that it kind of reminded me of a grittier Coen Brothers’ movie because it even had a similar scene as “Fargo” when she has that date with the Asian guy and he just starts crying because he loves her so much, and it's really awkward, and she has a similar scene like that with Peter Dinklage that I just thought was a really amazing scene even though it wasn't especially plot moving, but it added more color to the characters.

 

Mark says

And also I think it has a pretty heavy Quentin Tarantino influence. There's a scenes in the film where they do an over the shoulder camera shot where she's walking and the guitar music comes up that is really to me very heavily Quentin Tartantino inspired. And because it's so stirring the way the shot is done and the way the music comes up, you feel like you're in the moment with her and you feel her resolution the way she's walking and the music itself and it's something that you find especially in “Kill Bill.” Much more common with the way Quentin Tarantino shoots things, and it makes sense that it would be a similar feeling to “Kill Bill” because it's a mother on a revenge mission. You are invested in her success in the same way. You want her to be destructive. You want her to unleash and seek justice. But in that particular moment I was aware of it, and I thought, “Man, if it weren't for Quentin Tarantino, I don't know if they would have had that sort of brush to paint with.”

 

Candice says

Right. There was something out of time about the movie. I think it's because of the whole Americana feel to the town that it seemed older, and especially with there being so many racist overtones in the movie that there are some scenes, especially one in particular, that just really reminded me of “Mississippi Burning” or seeing crosses lit up.The movie just reminded me of movies that are about that time period as well.

I would just like geek out on the writing for just a quick second because it's so not what you would normally expect from most writing simply because a lot of the characters who you think they're serving a particular purpose in the film aren't. So on its face it looks like Frances McDormand is the protagonist and that you would see the largest character arc in her. Actually it's the character played by Sam Rockwell in whom we see the biggest change and who I think the movie is actually about. It's about his change, because honestly Frances McDormand just serves as a catalyst in the movie. Her billboards are what gets this thing going. Her daughter's murder and rape is what the whole movie is focused around. And I just feel like that's such an interesting play with character there. There is to a degree a villain but he's a red herring. I feel like it hit more realism than a lot of stories do that follow conventional kind of storytelling where the person who is most prominent in the film is the one who is the changing person instead of the change agent.

 

Mark says

I think the Coen Brothers reference, and it also shows up in “Django Unchained,” is the idea that Sam Rockwell's character is the most overtly racist, sexist, homophobic character in the film. And by all rights everything about him should be completely despicable to you. But you see how sad his his life is. It's almost like the writers are trying to diffuse the power of those things by showing you just how sad and pathetic a person has to be to hold those viewpoints and not see anything wrong with it.

 

Candice says

A very weak man trying to seem like a strong man.

 

Mark says

Right. And so it's crazy that you start off with him knowing those things about him and seeing his personal life and seeing him as such a weak character. And then by the end of the film, I would dare say, you don't necessarily love him, but you want him to succeed, which is crazy.

 

Candice says

Yeah you definitely do.

 

Mark says

Because you spend a good portion of the film wanting him to fail.

 

Candice says

But I think it's because Woody Harrelson in the story acts as a foil to him and you see that that's who he could become.

 

Mark says

Yeah the same way. So you definitely get a sense from some of the things that Woody Harrelson says, especially since he tolerates Sam Rockwell's character, that maybe he came from a similar place. Maybe not the same level of weakness or the same issues. He even has insight in the letter he writes into where that comes from. There's something there that makes you feel like under different circumstances or with a different opportunity, Sam Rockwell’s character could be different. And I think that maybe part of the message that they're trying to say is that racists and homophobes and people who are ideologically abhorrent to us given a different opportunity and given a different kind of love might be people with whom we can live and even share common goals with.

 

Candice says

Right. I thought the complexity of the characters and the chemistry between the characters was so moving in this movie. There was no one who was strong all the time. You got to see really vulnerable moments with Frances McDormand. And that was the thing I think I loved about her the most. I mean she was just 10 feet tall. Most of the time when she had to interact with someone, she was unflinching, but then there were also moments alone where you saw her and you saw her doubt and her guilt, but it didn't make me think any less of her. It just made her more real to me. And the same thing with Woody Harrelson’s character of him trying to be not exactly the tough guy cop, but he's a chief of police but then also dealing with illness and seeing that vulnerability in him, and I love that they took the time to show his family life. I thought that was beautiful. And like I said, Sam Rockwell has the most brilliant character progression I think I've ever seen in a movie. My feelings towards him extremely changed.

 

Mark says

You know it's funny you bring up those two characters, Frances McDormand's character and Woody Harrelson's character, because we mentioned yesterday when we're talking about this that great scene between the two of them. Because Frances McDormand plays such a strong person and such a determined and focused person, her relationship with her own son is completely strained. There's a moment between her and Woody Harrelson’s character where you see her switch into a mother mode for a moment, and it’s beautiful because it is such powerful and very short interaction between them. But it is a very powerful moment in the film, because you actually see love and you see her actually act parental and loving and caring. And it makes you it puts everything else in the story for her character in perspective. Her wish to find her daughter's killer, her issues with her ex-husband, her strained relationship with her son, her relationship with the town, all of those things all come into focus in that one moment where you see her as a mother. And it's really important.

 

Candice says

And also I think that you get to see in that moment that her quest for this doesn't come from anger. It just comes from wanting to be heard and feeling like someone cares and that they're still looking.

 

Mark says

Or they still remember her daughter.

 

Candice says

You see that that it's not that she's just this angry woman. What I love so much is that the story writing was so deliberate and careful and empathetic to all of its characters. And I also want to thank the screenwriter and the director for having the restraint to not be sensational with the movie, because I think it would have been really easy for a movie like this to feel like in order to pull emotional heartstrings or to get a very extreme reaction from that audience to show the daughter's rape and murder. And I was so happy that they did not. Just what it said on the billboard was enough for people to understand the stakes of the story. Seeing a very quick crime photo was enough to convey the horror that this young girl had gone through without us actually having to relive it with her.

 

Mark says

Yeah you're living the awfulness through the eyes of the survivors.

 

Candice says

The aftermath.

 

Mark says

Yes, the aftermath. You’re enduring all the things that survivors endure: survivor's guilt, shame over the last things you said to someone before they died. All those elements are played out. They're shown, not told. And in that way it makes her death and what she endured more poignant, because you're seeing the after effects. I think it's usually flipped in films. They're more interested in showing what the violence does to the victim as opposed to in this case showing the dozens or hundreds, or actually the whole town, who are other victims of this violence. Everyone is victimized by it, not just the person who dies. And I think that's kind of important in what the film has to say about sexual violence in that there's not just one victim but that the entire community is victimized every time it happens.

 

Candice says

So we are still working our way through all of the Oscar-nominated films, and so I can't say at this moment whether or not I think Frances McDormand should win Best Actress for this role. I know she's won an award already for this performance. But she is definitely deserving of the nomination. Just the scene in her kitchen where she's talking to the priest made me want to stand up and cheer.

 

Mark says

The audience cheered.

 

Candice says

I clapped. I couldn't help myself.

 

Mark says

We were in a theater. It's late enough in the run, and it wasn't a very packed theater. Maybe less than a dozen people, but there was an audible cheer when she finished her speech. I told Candice that it felt like the folks who wrote that scene knew the kind of impact it was going to have. It was an amazingly written moment. You get very few of those I think in a film career. It's definitely a moment where she delivered with all of the fire and power that it needed to be delivered with. I don't know if anybody else would had done that scene like she did.

 

Candice says

Yes. Everything that this movie is up for, Best Film, Best Actress, Best Screenplay, and Two Best Supporting Actors, which I don't know how they're going to pick. I think Sam Rockwell gave the more powerful performance, but Woody Harrelson was also amazing and deserves to be acknowledged. And the Best Original Screenplay, which I cannot say enough good things about the screenplay. It was so well written. So it's worthy competition. It will be interesting to see who wins.

Mark and Candice

Mark and Candice

Sometimes the best part of reading an article online is engaging in a conversation in the comment section. However, discussions involving opposing points of view between strangers can devolve into a toxic environment. So what if these conversations were had between two people who loved each other?

At Cheek to Geek, our contributors consist of a diverse group of couples who are steeped in geek and popular culture. Our reviews reflect the back-and-forth, opposing or concurring, debates that geeks are notorious for having. But our founders, Mark and Candice Roma, have always felt that the love and respect felt for certain fandoms should carry over into the way we discuss them. Candice hopes that by modeling fruitful and productive discourses in our blogs, vlogs, and podcasts that we can show our readers the value in having disparate opinions and that differing perspectives don’t have to lead to hostile confrontation. “Mark and I have been together almost nine years, and every time we go see a movie, read book, go to a new restaurant, or see something awesome, we immediately ask what the other one thought. We don’t always agree, but having a conversation with my husband is my favorite part of experiencing something new.”

Although Cheek to Geek focuses on the opinions of specific couples, Mark believes that our vision for the site will extend far beyond that. “Ultimately the goal of art is to communicate, and the goal of communication is to build a community.” Our mission is to create a positive, inclusive, and safe environment for the appreciation and discussion of popular art in all its forms. 

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