Movies & TV

Grappling with rage in ‘Three Billboards’

Writer and director McDonagh, left, and Rockwell. “Three Billboards” was first written about eight years ago. Photo Reuters/Mario Anzuoni

LOS ANGELES: As a San Francisco native, Sam Rockwell says he doesn’t know why he gets offered roles to play “a lot of rednecks and country guys,” but he’s taking the opportunity to try to understand complex, unlovable male characters. Rockwell, 49, who recently played a Klansman and a brutish Texas colonel, currently co-stars as a racist, angry police officer in the movie “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”

“I think he’s very lonely,” Rockwell told Reuters of his character, Dixon. “I think he was probably abused. His father hit him when he was a kid, and he’s got a weird relationship with his mom. All this adds to a lot of complexity.”

Out in U.S. theaters Friday, “Three Billboards” stars Frances McDormand as Mildred, a woman on a mission to get the local police in her small Missouri hometown to properly investigate the murder of her daughter. The film, produced by Fox Searchlight, has already attracted awards buzz and strong critical praise for both McDormand and Rockwell.

McDormand’s hardened, foul-mouthed Mildred places questions on three billboards about the town’s police efforts that cause her to clash with law enforcement, particularly Dixon. “None of these characters live in the black and white,” Rockwell said. “They live in the gray.”

“Three Billboards” writer and director Martin McDonagh said Dixon isn’t a “representation of a thing or an idea or a group.”

Furthermore, Dixon’s character in “Three Billboards” is forced to face humility and he ends the film in an unexpected place. “If I was just writing a strictly racist brute,” McDonagh said, “then you wouldn’t have found the hope or the change or the humanity in him.”

While “Three Billboards” was first written about eight years ago, its exploration of a small, isolated town and a racist police officer has some resonance with present-day racial tensions in America. McDonagh and Rockwell said they hoped the film sparked conversations around the issue. “I think it’s good to put out a film that starts off in a place of anger and rage,” McDonagh said, “but kind of has a lot of hope and humanity to it too.”

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 14, 2017, on page 12.

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