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Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

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Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri left the Sundance festival with praise and appreciation after its first release in December of 2017, but in months following, has accumulated a flurry of controversy in regards to its sympathetic portrayal of key character Officer Dixon, a racist — with a heart of gold, of course.

The film follows the aftermath of the murder and rape of a young woman named Angela Hayes in the small town of Ebbing, Missouri. Her mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), is outraged by the local police department’s lack of investigation in her daughter’s murder, and leases three billboards located on the outskirts of her town. These billboards call out not only the department’s lack of initiative in the case, but more specifically Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). Tensions are high as it is between Hayes and the department, and this existing conflict is only inflamed by the involvement of the chief’s second-in-command Officer Dixon — an immature and often violent officer with a muddled history in policing.

The film does an excellent job of portraying an incredibly desperate and deeply injured mother, but along the way, mocks just about everything else. From cancer, to suicide, to police brutality, there is just about no serious 21st century topic this film does not mock. Sometimes it’s funny; sometimes it hits the humor mark; and sometimes, the comedy is so misplaced you want to run right out of the theater and scream at the writer that suicide is not funny.

Hayes is an undeniably strong woman and, to be honest, a little bit violent. But behind her tough exterior, buried under years of abuse, financial issues, and sadness, she is loving. She loves her children and she loves her friends, and at the heart of the film, that is what shines through.

But through all the violence and hate, the love gets foggy. People are tossed out of windows, buildings set on fire, and at some points, Officer Dixon is so horrible he just about makes you want to give up on humanity as a whole. He may be one of the most stupid characters I have ever witnessed in a film classified as a drama. He is not only inherently ignorant of the things one would assume common knowledge to a police officer, but also a bigot and racist who took five years to graduate from the police academy — not including the year he made up. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri makes him out to be a deep down, really nice guy. But the fact of the matter is that he is a racist, homophobic, sporadically violent man, and that nice is so deep down it’s irrelevant in the long run.

It is a film worth seeing if only to better understand the world, and the country we live in now. But, I say that with a warning. Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is not for the light hearted, and its comedy is everywhere from that. It is an intense film packed with tension, drama, and an extremely drawn out plot. With each of the characters’ questionable moral compass, the film is a showcase of raw humanity while at the same time one of the cringiest films I have ever seen. Get ready for some of the most uncomfortable film moments of 2017 and a deep wanting to punch, not one but, multiple characters in the face.

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