22 January 2018

It's Chaos... Be Kind

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The best sign I ever saw simply said, “I fucked Jackie Smith on these steps and up the arse. What a slag”. Well, it wasn't so much of a sign as it was a bit of graffiti scrawled on a wall in Birkenhead but I think we got the message. If you ever meet a girl called Jackie Smith then buy her a drink because apparently she's fucking cool! In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Frances McDormand's grieving mother has a similar idea on how to spread her message... except rather than being a scrawled and misogynistic review of some post-bummed tart, McDormand is fucked off with the local police for failing to solve the case of her raped and murdered daughter. To quote director Martin McDonagh's brothers film Calvary, “That's certainly a startling opening”. Apparently the French title for this film translates back into English as The Billboards Of Wrath which is clearly a better title than what it ended up being. Not least of all because I keep accidentally referring to this film as The Three Burials Of Melquiades Estrada which is a slightly forgotten Tommy Lee Jones western from about ten years ago. Not to go on about Martin McDonagh's director brother however but perhaps another fitting title for this movie might have been his War On Everyone because in this film and presumably like Jackie Smith, Frances McDormand's character does not give a fuck about who she shits on to have her way.

Right now we seem to be having a bit of a moment in the real world as we've just discovered that people can be pricks and we're not quite sure what to do about it. Louis CK likes forcing people to watch him wank off, which is gross enough to just have to imagine let alone see. The less said about John Travolta opening up his anus for a massage the better too because I don't want to help bulemic people by giving them something to think about. The thing about Louis CK for example though is that he'd always seemed so funny and left wing and pro women's rights. Does this mean that we can no longer enjoy his previous stand-up? Obviously there's an argument to be made against financially supporting people like him through his work, but just in terms of the work itself? It seems confusing because we always like to put people into boxes and the idea that a 'baddie' could also do something good or contradictory doesn't quite fit with the simplicity of that. How is it possible that a man that forces people to look at his shrivelled, ginger, pig dick, could generate huge amount of love from his seemingly insightful and hilarious views on our collective human nature? Well, as The Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems to suggest.. people are actually three dimensional beings that can't simply be defined by any one thing no matter how good or bad. I guess even Gandhi must have wanted to punch somebody in the dick at least once in a while.

Despite what sounds like a pretty straight set-up, a mother seeks justice for her brutally murdered child, The Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri presents every scenario with shades of grey. Beyond a photograph of a man's face at the exact second that he accidentally sits on his own ball-sack you'll never see a more perfect depiction of pain than McDormand's performance. From the trailer of the film you can see the hilarity of a foul mouthed woman that doesn't give a shit about who she offends. Except if that's what you want then you're going to just have to go on a dog walk with my Mum instead because that's really not what you get here. One of the main themes of the movie is in how destructive feelings will really only lead to further destruction and so as McDormand takes on more and more people with her zero tolerance attitude it's hard to conclude that she's always in the right... even if you can completely understand why she's doing whatever she's doing. I guess to give an example of what I mean without spoiling the film, imagine you were mowing your lawn because you needed it to look nice but in the process you accidentally mowed over a frog and splat it. Except in this case there's quite a lot of frogs and you're aware that you're going to go over them but nothing means more to you than getting your lawn tidy. Also, one of those frogs is quite kind and has cancer. I'm not sure if that example has helped explain what I mean to be honest but if that's what McDormand's character did here then I suspect the French would have something harsher to call it than simply The Billboards Of Wrath.

On top of McDormand's character refusing to fit the box of being the film's hero, or grieving mother, or whatever other label you want to give her, there's also the racist policeman played by Sam Rockwell. On the surface you'd imagine his fascist idiot to be the villain of the film, not least of all because he seems to be standing in McDormand's way in her search for justice. And yet as the film progresses we start to sympathise with him and worry for him. This is despite the fact that his atrocities are never really shied away from. At no point is anything awful that he's done excused, or justified, or forgotten it's just that he's depicted as being a human rather than a cliché. A human that's done terrible things of course, but at the same time he's one that isn't solely defined by any one individual action. This is helped too by the fact that we view him through the eyes of those around him, not least of all Woody Harrelson's Police Chief. Harrelson's character is the focus of the grieving mothers campaign and as such you might imagine him to be the tooth-pick chewing, bad-ass, Dirty Harry-esque cop that he's clearly set-up to be. Except even he confounds expectations by going on to be the heart of the film. When seeing Rockwell's fucked up bully through Harrelson's eyes, we see that he's really just a scared, angry, child. And so like Louis CK's grim wanker that sexually assaults women one minute and then seems to be contradictorily feminist the next, Rockwell's policeman gains our sympathy by simply being an example of how complicated and confused we are as a species. His behaviour isn't excused.. it just that people are more than the one thing that's currently defining them. 

Since the film's release, the entire cast have been receiving the kind of acclaim that's only ever usually dished out by people writing their own reviews and with particular praise going to McDormand and Rockwell. However, we know they're great actors already, don't we? Along with a stoner that had his rug pissed on, McDormand has been the best thing about the Coen Brothers movies for the last thirty years and Rockwell has been the best thing in everything he's been in since forever. The reason that they're getting particular notice this time is because they've actually been given characters that are complicated and complete enough to be worthy of their talents and surely we can only put that down to the skills of writer-director Martin McDonagh. Mostly known for being one of the greatest living play-writers in the world, McDonagh made his directorial debut with the unbeatable In Bruges before following it up with the slightly less memorable Seven Psychopaths. He also made a bit of a name for himself in the mid-nineties at an awards event when Sean Connery got annoyed with him for taking the piss out of a toast for the Queen which resulted in McDonagh drunkenly telling Bond to 'fuck off'. In McDonagh's work, it often seems that in a world of chaos the characters have had to create their own moral code to survive with the ensuing violence being as a result of when these individual codes clash. This film maintains that, although, it adds one extra caveat. Whilst Louis CK might have been in the news for spanking his ginger trouser grub, the comedian Patton Oswalt also made news when it was reported that his young wife had sadly died. In his subsequent special, Oswalt spoke about the ordeal and concluded his show with his wife's life motto: “It's chaos; be kind”. McDonagh has always depicted a world of chaos but this time he provides us with an escape from its misery. Be kind. I just hope that we're not all so busy slagging each other off on social media or on walls in Birkenhead that we miss that. Thanks for reading, motherfuckers, and see you next time.

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