Max’s Views: Nominated for Best Picture: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: ****
“Always remember, people will hate you. But they don’t win unless you hate them back. And then you destroy yourself.”
People have a funny idea about the virtue of vengeance.
If a bad guy does something to your family, you are given free reign to hate him and work to have bad things happen to him. Vengeance is considered satisfying, justified, and cool.
People know that wrath is a deadly sin and that we are supposed to love our enemies, but they don’t want to hear it. “Why is the church being such a killjoy? They are taking all the fun out of my sweet vengeance!”
But the church is right and it’s doing us a favor. When a bad guy wrongs your family, the selfish thing to do is forgive him and move on; that’s your best shot at happiness and peace. Wrath is rightly called a deadly sin because it makes life miserable for the people around you and destroys your soul.
Writer/director Martin McDonagh certainly agrees. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is the perfect anti-vengeance movie.
McDonagh starts off with a classic Hollywood premise.
On one side, you’ve got the heroine: Mildred (Frances McDormand). Mildred’s daughter was murdered several months ago and she demands justice. Mildred rents out three billboards in town that explicitly call out the police for failing to find the killer.
On the other side, you’ve got the bad guy: Dixon (Sam Rockwell). Dixon is a drunken, racist, angry bully cop.
McDonagh has an easy movie on his hands, right? Just make poor Mildred look sympathetic and make Dixon look like an irredeemable villain. Heck, let’s find that killer in the final act, too, for closure, justice, and a happy ending.
No. No. No. “Three Billboards” defies every expectation you have. This film is full of surprises; brave surprises that are never gimmicky.
There are no heroes or villains in Ebbing, Missouri. There are just people making decisions. Every decision that’s based on anger leads to more anger. And every moment of forgiveness leads to more togetherness and peace.
Frances McDormand’s Mildred is an amazing, realistic lead character. she’s no fool, but she’s too angry and stubborn to ever learn her lesson. We the audience slowly realize what Mildred doesn’t: Even if she finds her daughter’s killer, she won’t be happy. She has already turned too many people against her and she is too overcome by hate.
Vengeance is never a virtue. Forgiveness is always the sensible choice.