“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”: Let Frances McDormand become “The Lobster”

As far as I can determine, Ebbing, MO is fictitious. I’ve been in the Missouri Ozarks myself a couple times, once in 1983 when I stayed in Joplin (later to be hit by a tornado) and visited the AOG headquarters in Springfield out of religious curiosity. In December 1992, after Clinton got in, I had flown to Memphis and driven up to Sikeston and west across US 60, where it’s flat until you suddenly encounter the gentle uplift of the Ozark plateau.

But Martin McDonagh filmed “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” in the foothills of the North Carolina Blue Ridge, perhaps near Brown Mountain, where the ridges look larger than they really would.  I like to see movies set in specific places really filmed there.  There are shots of a hillside quarry that I don’t recall seeing in my own numerous adventures in the NC mountain country.

By the way, I think I drove through Branson in 1983, and my mother and aunt went to a concert there once upon a time.

But let’s get to the movie, a black comedy that gets Lobster-wicked. Frances McDormand (the pregnant detective in “Fargo”) plays Mildred Hayes, a single divorced mom out for justice after losing a daughter to rape a few years back. Since the town police chief (Bill Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson [“Natural Born Killers”, 1994]) has failed to solve the case, Mildred coughs up multiple grands to rent three billboards on a “mountain” road outside town.  The early scene where she pays “Red” (a freckled Caleb Landry Jones) the bounty sets the tone for what follows. Soon she has a session with the dentist (“Little Shop of Horrors”) where she stabs the dentist in the thumbnail with a drill. Bill is ready to arrest her, but coughs up blood all over her and is quickly diagnosed with terminal lung cancer. (Lance Armstrong coughed up blood when his testicular cancer metastasized, and we all know about his spectacular recovery, his bicycle races, and his own fall.)  Now I get into spoiler territory, out of necessity. Bill ends his own life, not out of anger over Mildred, but because he doesn’t want to become a medical spectacle.

Then there is the angry gay cop Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who goes on a rampage and throws Red out the window, and does other stuff and gets fired.  Mildred thinks he torched her signs, and winds up torching toe police department herself. All of this set up an opportunity to solve the case and lead to a vigilante, extra-judicial (like Duterte) revenge conclusion. Bill writes post-suicide letters to a number of people, telling them their good sides.  Dixon, even fired, gets the idea that he can redeem himself, even though he is badly burned and disfigured when the police station is torched.  He goes into a bar (Ebbing isn’t big enough for a gay bar per se, and gay bars rarely have brawls compared to straight bars), and overhears a man bragging about raping a girl.  He thinks he finally found the suspect.  And even if he is the wrong guy, he and Mildred can enforce the death penalty themselves on someone.  Along the way, she pretends to date the dwarf James (Peter Dinklage) even if he isn’t physically he perfect “catch”. It gets Shakespearian.

Bill has two young daughters, whom he indulges, like on a fishing trip.  But Mildred’s kids are more adult, particularly Robbie Hayes, of college age, played by Lucas Hedges, who looks muscled up and buff for this role, ready to protect mom.  Lucas, as in all of his roles, talks like a polished, educated young man, better than the people in the surroundings that reared him.  It’s as if being a successful person were more about genes than mere upbringing and parenting. Mildred checks that he is sleeping soundly on the early morning that she goes out with Dixon to enforce extra-judicial capital punishment on the rapist,  because she knows her son would stop her from doing it.  But the movie declines to show the final execution that we know will happen, no questions asked.

My overall reaction was that this satire makes fun of Hillary Clinton’s “basket of deplorables”, the poor white trash who rose up out of the politics of resentment to put Donald Trump in the White House, with the help of the Russians, who sent fake news to people like this.

The Amazon link above is for the screenplay script.  This one will be taught in classes.

The bar scene has curious musical accompaniment: the andante from Mozart’s Piano Sonata #1 in C, K. 279 (not the famous #15); the slow movement sounds almost like Scarlatti.  The film music score is vt Carter Burwell, whom I think I have heard of (maybe met) through the Metropolis Ensemble.

Bell Mountain in the Missouri Ozarks, Wiki.

First picture is Mother’s from near Branson; second is mine near Brown Mountain in NC (near the filming location).  And, oh, yes, in 2002 I almost wound up working for “the state” as a contract programmer in Jefferson City (per diem while I was still living in Minneapolis).

Name:  “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director, writer:  Martin McDonagh
Released:  2017/11
Format:  2.35:1
When and how viewed:  Landmark E Street, Thanksgiving Day, afternoon, fair audience
Length:  115
Rating:  R
Companies:  Fox Searchlight, Film4
Link:  official

(Posted: Thursday, November 23, 2017 at 9 PM EST)