Now that’s what I call a trailer

We know that filmmakers put some of the best scenes into their trailers. In fact, when it comes to many action films where character and plot are given short shrift and the focus is on fights and chases, once you’ve seen the trailer, you can pretty much skip the film. But there are some trailers that are so compelling that you know immediately that you want to see the film. One such case is the trailer for the black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri that was released this past week. It tells you just enough to make you curious for more. It helps that it has two superb actors Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in the lead roles of the mother of a raped and murdered woman and the local police chief.

Zaid Jilani writes about the film’s underlying themes as epitomized by the mother Hayes and the police chief Willoughby.

The clash between Willoughby and Hayes is representative of some of the moral questions at the heart of the debate on criminal justice reform. On the one hand, the viewer wants Hayes to catch her daughter’s killer: Criminal accountability is a bedrock of a just society. But on the other hand, Hayes is so intent on her individual pursuit of justice that she is willing to sacrifice the liberties of innocent bystanders. She tells Willoughby that the ideal solution would be to subject every male in the country to a DNA test, and to kill the person whose DNA is a match for that found on her daughter.

“There’s definitely civil rights laws against that,” Willoughby replied.

The exchange between the two is typical of McDonagh’s dark comedic writing, but it’s also emblematic of the discourse around criminal justice in the United States over the past three decades.

I am planning to see the film and will let you know if it lives up to the trailer or if I have been suckered into paying good money to see a mediocre film. If so, it would not be the first time.


  1. says

    No matter whether the movie sucks or not, you can enjoy McDormand’s acting which, I am sure, will be excellent. She could probably read bowling scores and keep my attention.

  2. Steve Cameron says

    In Bruges is an earlier film by that director that is worth checking out if you haven’t already. It’s a dark comedy that follows a couple of gangsters who are hiding out after a messed up job, and will probably give you a good idea of whether you’ll like 3 Billboards. Though it didn’t do well at the box office, the Belgian town of Bruges, already a tourist draw, did actually see a small bump in tourism related to the film.

  3. Johnny Vector says

    McDonagh is an expert at creating complex characters with ambiguous motivations. It’s often hard to know who to root for in his writing, and who is the good guy changes from scene to scene. He also has a command of dialogue that is unexcelled.

    Along with In Bruges, I heartily recommend many of his stage plays. The Cripple of Inishmaan is a good place to start. It only has a little violence, most of it offstage (excepting a couple fistfights and some eggs broken over a characters head). Then there’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore, which is basically a Quentin Tarantino movie on stage, if Tarantino could write about 100 times better than he can. It addresses questions such as “did you notice the connection between the senseless violence and the years of fighting in Northern Ireland?” and “Am I a bad person for laughing at this?” Full disclosure: I named my cat after the cat in the show*.

    His best, I think, is The Pillowman. I lit a local production of that a few years back, so I got to study the script and watch it numerous times. It’s a masterpiece of writing, which asks (among other things) what the responsibility is of a writer to his audience, to the public, and to life in general. It’s almost never produced (it’s not exactly a feel-good show), but if you get a chance to see it, you really should.

    So, if 3 Billboards is anywhere close to any of those works, it will be a great film. I certainly plan to see it.

    *Yes, the script calls for a live cat on stage. Also gallons of blood and body parts. I think McDonagh hates stage managers for some reason.

  4. Bruce says

    This raises a science question. While complete sequencing of human DNA exists, the number of possibilities of a functioning human is vastly less than 4 to the power of 21,000 or whatever the theoretical limit is. In practice, I believe forensic DNA tests are really looking at just a couple of hundred variables at most. Nobody’s doing complete sequencing.
    Thus, if the nation really did implement the suggestion and test the DNA of 100 million US males, but only look at 300 or 200 points, then how many false positives should we expect for a crime committed by only one specific individual?
    This may be seen as a problem in math, biology, or forensics. But I feel at heart it is a question of what we might call constitutional ethics. Another way to look at it is to ask: how many uniquely distinguishing variables must a test examine in order to have over 95% confidence one is not executing an innocent man?
    And is 95% confidence even what is demanded by “beyond a reasonable doubt”? If I were randomly a victim of a false positive, I would not want to be unfairly executed, even if it’s at the 99.999% confidence level.
    What can clarify this?

  5. John Morales says

    hyphenman, really?

    Because (to me) Bruce’s question seems orders of magnitude more interesting than I perceive the film to be, even granting everything Johnny Vector claims and having watched the video.

    Basically, it looks really boring — to me.

    (de gustibus and all that)

    Bruce, there is no hard criterion, and yes, that 95% or whatever is only valid as related to a sound model that justifies the applicable probability distribution function.

    More to the point, why ask here? Google (or whatever search engine) is your friend.

  6. Mano Singham says

    Bruce’s point is a very valid one. DNA evidence alone should never be used to convict anyone because of the possibility of false positives. It should always be used in conjunction with other evidence.

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