Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, “Three Billboards” is being released on DVD Feb. 13, capitalizing on its Academy Awards exposure (“The Shape of Water” comes out two weeks later). Thus far, the film’s accolades include seven nominations, plus a number of wins at run-up events, including Screen Actors Guild and Golden Globes for the movie, Frances McDormand and co-star Sam Rockwell.
As many analysts have noted, the major issue in “Three Billboards” (and this requires some spoilers to discuss) is whether Dixon is redeemed by doing what amounts to a good thing near the movie’s end. But a fairer reading of McDonagh’s script is that people are complicated, requiring a more nuanced view that’s reflected in the film’s inconclusive ending.
When the movie begins, it’s easy to surmise the audience is expected to identify with, and root for, McDormand’s grieving mother, who puts up the billboards demanding justice for her murdered daughter. Yet as the story progresses, she proceeds to do a number of terrible things in her conviction about the righteousness of her cause, in a way that makes her less sympathetic.
Similarly, one can argue that Dixon’s noble act doesn’t change who he is in any significant way. He simply demonstrates himself capable of doing the right thing under certain circumstances.
“Three Billboards” is one of a handful of films perceived as having a legitimate shot at being named best picture — an unusually wide-open field, given that the focus by now has usually concentrated around two or three. Part of that likely has to do with the absence of many truly great movies this year, and the fact key contenders — like “The Shape of Water” (the pick by the directors and producers guilds) and “Get Out” (the WGA’s original screenplay winner) — come from genres that seldom receive top awards recognition.
A “Three Billboards” triumph will surely trigger renewed sniping, while its failure to do so will provoke debate regarding whether the backlash derailed a movie that was seen as being well on its way to Oscar glory.
The truth, in either event, is a little more complicated — which seems rather appropriate, frankly, for a movie whose pros and cons can’t be reduced to billboard-friendly bites.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” will be available on DVD beginning Feb. 13.