Another week gone and the most important date of the calendar year for filmmakers and film-goers alike looms large. This article is part two of three of a small Oscar based mini-series by Blair MacBride. Part Two: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
This week, the attention is on the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in a Feature Film. The academy award surely has to be Sam Rockwell’s for his performance in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’.
In film, it’s a given that not every character is going to be extraordinary. Nowadays, with the endless cycle of emerging screenplays, it’d be nearly impossible to remember them all. It’s only on the rare occasion that the viewer finds a particular persona featuring real substance worthy of consideration. What makes that key difference is the combination of an incredibly skilled writer and a highly talented actor: as the latter, Sam Rockwell shines through as the best aspect of this multi-Oscar nominated movie.
Three Billboards is arguably clumsy in places; it could deal with certain themes a little more respectfully. Dixon for example is a racist, sexist, homophobic, trigger happy cop who is an obvious jab at the current American Police System. He also beats African-American suspects yet somehow maintains his job through favouritism. Rockwell, however, is an actor who does his job brilliantly by engaging with all the essences of this complex character and then depicting them wonderfully. The arc of Jason Dixon isn’t one of redemption. It’s clearly about a character who begins to self-analyse and reassess how he comes across in life, particularly in the latter stages of the film. A character who realises both the errors of his ways and how he has to change.
Two contrasting sequences in particular highlight the arc of Dixon aptly. Firstly, his estranged bout of rage when dealing with Red, the CEO of the small business that owns the esteemed ‘Three Billboards’ (the billboards are rented by Frances McDormand’s character, Mildred Hayes, who, for her own reasons, is using them to damage the reputation of the local Sheriff’s department). Dixon, a loyal sympathiser with Woody Harrelson’s ‘Chief Willoughby’, forces entry into the premises of the business. He in turn assaults, then launches Red out of a second storey window onto the street below. Rockwell’s performance expertly portrays this violent, 2nd amendment wielding, redneck, and Officer Dixon is solidified as a truly detestable character.
As the film pushes towards its climax, the second sequence in question begins to alter the originally perceived, simple image of Dixon. The character reads a letter from Chief Willoughby, a cancer sufferer who is near his death. Dixon is made aware in the letter of both the intentions of Willoughby, and the Chief’s honest opinion of him. It is clear that this is the turning point for the reckless police officer, as Dixon realises what opportunities he could create for himself should he recognise that he has to change the horrendous nature of his ways. Through the ability of Rockwell’s acting here, one can’t help feeling a sense of sympathy and respect for Dixon who now clearly seeks to try and defeat his inner demons for the better.
‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri’ is destined to pick up a number of accolades during this year’s award season (The Golden Globes and BAFTAs proving to be the first examples). Sam Rockwell in his portrayal of Jason Dixon is one of the most complex and captivating characters of the big screen in recent times, and it should surely land him the Academy award for Best Supporting Actor.
By Blair MacBride