Why PC Mobs Are Targeting This New Movie
Criticism aimed at 'Three Billboards' is part of larger impulse in America that every film must be politically perfect
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” should be enjoying its time in the sun after its surprise Best Picture (Drama) win at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. Instead, it’s facing an onslaught of attacks from Twitter mobs who feel the film is far too politically incorrect to receive mainstream recognition.
The film follows a character by the name of Mildred (Frances McDormand) as she fights her local police for not solving the murder case of her daughter. She causes a stir in her small town when she rents three billboards on a barely used road that call out law enforcement for its lack of progress in the investigation.
It’s a powerful film about grief, blame, and the complexities of everyday people — who can sometimes be judged far too quickly by those viewing their lives from a distance.
The movie has received almost universal praise from critics, and audiences have made it a sleeper hit at the box office, but it's the project's surprising awards attention that has now brought out negativity from some corners.
The main point of contention for critics is the character of Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). He's a bumbling, ignorant cop with casually racist leanings who is given a slightly redemptive arc in the film. Rockwell has earned high praise for his role and has already nabbed a Golden Globe for his surprising turn.
The Daily Beast's Ira Madison III called the arc "wholly offensive."
"The film stars Sam Rockwell as a violent and racist cop who finds redemption not through owning up to his racism or doing jail time for his crimes, but because he's determined to solve the mystery of who raped and murdered Frances McDormand's daughter," Madison wrote. "It's not only an attempt at emotional manipulation that runs cold, but it's also a journey that's played for comedy throughout 'Three Billboards.'"
Madison argued the film should have cast sharper judgment on Rockwell's character for his violent tendencies and racist remarks.
Screenwriter Marc Bernardin wrote in a piece for The Guardian that "Three Billboards" was a "shallow look at race in America." He said the movie provided "excuses" for Rockwell's character.
"White critics love 'Three Billboards' like they love their racist uncles," added the Huffington Post's Lydia Polgreen.
Others have criticized the film for its lack of central black characters and its politically incorrect dialogue.
Writer/director Martin McDonagh (pictured above left) has been taking the criticisms in stride. He's even pushed back and claimed Hollywood has become too safe and PC in its filmmaking.
"I think everything is up for grabs, and if you're an equal opportunities offender like I am, there's a joy to it. Also it's the way people speak when they're not being the best people that they might hope to be,” he said in a recent interview with Yahoo News.
He added, "I think there's a bit too much bland PC filmmaking going on, and you never really want to watch those films twice, so I prefer this kind."
The truth is McDonagh has been making films like "Three Billboards" for years. The 2008 movie "In Bruges" and 2012's "Seven Psychopaths" were equally politically incorrect and followed a group of people flawed in their own unique ways. Every one of those characters talked as real human beings talk — not like movie characters aware that a Twitter mob is watching, their thumbs at the ready on their phones.
"Three Billboards" is receiving backlash because of its unexpected popularity with awards voters. If it had remained a cult hit in the vein of "Bruges" and "Psychopaths," people would have likely left it alone. Any work of art that reaches a certain level of popularity today seems to simply become chum in the water for people of all political spectrums who scour the world for anything to outrage and offend them.
As for Rockwell's character, the debate seems to be indicative of a larger issue with cultural dialogues taking place in this country. In art, the complexities of the medium seem to be drying up into black-and-white moral arguments that have more to do with political movements than film.
Is Rockwell's character fully redeemed in the film? Sort of. The movie's ending is as complex as everything that comes before. As a writer, McDonagh is meant to be dissected and discussed not in tweets, but in longer forms of dialogue and meaningful conversation.
Bernardin, Madison and others have every right to make their arguments, but critics seem to want "Three Billboards" to give its audience comfortable, politically correct and socially inclusive messages. That's not filmmaking; that's preaching. In recent years, the two have unfortunately become increasingly confused. It's why Hollywood's awards season has become so lazy and predictable.
For those who want preaching about race in America, just look at George Clooney's attempt at an Oscar contender — last September's "Suburbicon." That heavy-handed picture made plenty of sweeping judgments and paid the price. It almost completely disappeared after two weeks at the box office — and became one of Paramount's biggest flops.
Rockwell's character (as well the film's other characters) remains true to life. It's strange that many people who want films to show various walks of life then turn on movies focused on rural America (such as last year's "Logan Lucky"). It's as if rural America immediately has something to prove when it's shown on the big screen.
Folks now go to movies with preconceived notions about people from various places and political affiliations. And characters must always now represent some larger "group." Whichever way their story goes is then the way that filmmakers feel about said group.
Yet on-screen, preconceived notions are supposed to be challenged. A group of actors and a script should melt away any baggage brought in from the outside world and from opinions posted on social media. "Three Billboards" is about flawed characters. Some good people do bad things. Some bad people do good things. In the end, some have moments of redemption and glimmers of hope for the future.
McDonagh provides no easy answers — and takes on big issues not by standing on a soapbox and screaming his opinions to the sky, but by introducing unique characters interconnected by tragedy.
PopZette editor Zachary Leeman can be reached at [email protected].