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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

by Louise Adams
Wednesday Mar 7, 2018
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Fabulous Frances McDormand just won the Best Actress Oscar alongside her "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" co-star Sam Rockwell, who won Best Supporting Actor, beating out his fellow co-nominated co-star Woody Harrelson (the film was also nominated for Best Picture, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, and Best Original Music Score).

Writer/director Martin McDonagh previously won for "In Bruges," and continues his talent for creating dark comedy with this intense tale focused on Mildred Hayes (McDormand).

The bereaved mother rents a trio of large signs outside her small town, shaming likable Chief of Police William Willoughby (Harrelson) to find and prosecute her daughter's rapist and murderer. Violent, dimwit Officer Dixon (Rockwell) gets involved with the face off as well.

The video release of the film includes several extras, including additional scenes, like "Mildred vs. the Town" and a few Dixon moments, as well as a new, totally unrelated, extremely dark 30-minute McDonagh short starring "Bruges'" Brendan Gleeson.

The primary featurette has segments about creating the film. In "The Origins of Ebbing," McDonagh tells of seeing three similar billboards in America 17 years ago, then ruminating on what type of person would do that. About ten years ago, he decided it was a mother, wrote the first draft, put it away for a year, then shared the script.

McDormand speaks about respecting his scripts, that they are "the Bible, the foundation," and co-star Peter Dinklage adds that they are "very specific, not a misplaced comma." The auteur says he keeps a rein on the black comic material, maintaining the sadness and struggle against loss. McDormand agrees that the macabre is based in the deep, paralyzing grief of the loss of a child.

She adds that the film contributes to the poignant conversation in American culture about the police, and Rockwell notes that the film exposes bigotry too.

"The People of the Town" shares that this is the second collaboration by the writer with Harrelson and Rockwell. Although she was wary of asking writers for acting parts (she see it all the time as the wife of a Coen brother), McDormand asked McDonagh to write her something after seeing his "The Pillowman" on Broadway. Harrelson was also a fan of his plays.

Mildred is quiet and hopeful despite living in a dark place, but McDormand says there is no word in any language for the paralysis of losing a child.

McDormand used John Wayne (in John Ford films specifically) as her touchstone, having Mildred lumber like the Duke. She emulated Christopher Walken in The Deer Hunter with her bandana, sometimes on her head and sometimes around her neck, and considered her ex-husband's mechanic coveralls as her war uniform, part of "Mildred's radicalization."

Rockwell appreciates Dixon as being a villain, but more complicated via the character's anger, sadness, innocence and hero worship of Willoughby.

"The Rise and Fall of Ebbing" shares the film's shooting location in North Carolina, where Director of Photography Ben Davis channeled 70s films to "grab the landscape" in the one street town. McDonagh's favorite scene is explained and was shot in one heavily rehearsed take when Dixon goes across the street from the police station to the ad agency and back.

Perhaps the most empowering part of this riveting, timely #TimesUp era project is McDormand's Oscar-winning speech, where she asked all women in the audience to stand up and literally be counted. And her final two words were "inclusion rider" (where a star such as herself can demand diversity hires as part of her contract).

She is John Wayne, just more badass.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"
Blu-ray . DVD Combo

Louise Adams is a Chicago freelance writer at www.treefalls.com (and a nom de guerre).


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