Movies & TV / Reviews

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review

December 7, 2017 | Posted by Joseph Lee
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
The 411 Rating
Community Grade
Your Grade
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review  

*Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes
*Woody Harrelson as Sheriff Bill Willoughby
*Sam Rockwell as Officer Jason Dixon
*John Hawkes as Charlie Hayes
*Peter Dinklage as James
*Lucas Hedges as Robbie Hayes
*Caleb Landry Jones as Red Welby
*Abbie Cornish as Anne Willoughby
*Clarke Peters as Abercrombie
*Samara Weaving as Penelope

Story: A darkly comic drama from Academy Award nominee Martin McDonagh (In Bruges). After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

For those unfamiliar with director and writer Martin McDonagh, he’s gained a fair amount of fans for his films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. Both films were a mix of black comedy and subversive drama that can’t really be confined to one genre or another. If you take a look at the trailer for In Bruges, for example, you might think it’s just an action-comedy. It is, but it’s also incredibly dark and heartwrenching. The same thing can be applied to his latest film, which is both easily definable and at the same time ignores standard genre definitions.

The film stars Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who has no answers about her daughter’s rape and murder seven months later. She’d fed up and decides rent out three billboards on a lonely stretch of highway, questioning the ability of the chief of police. This causes a lot of problems for a lot of people, which isn’t just limited to the aforementioned chief. It seems like a simple plot, but it only grows from its initial premise and becomes a character film that almost seems to ignore its murder mystery beginning at times.

As mentioned, it would be easy to label this as a black comedy murder mystery. Yet as the movie goes on the comedy is less frequent and the mystery only really gains any forward motion at the start of the third act. Even then, it doesn’t necessarily go where you might think it does. McDonagh does a tremendous job of playing with expectations here, as the characters manage to grow and change, or in some cases, remain the same in spite of themselves.

The entire cast pulls their weight from its star on down to some of the bit characters. Frances McDormand in particular is a joy to watch. Mildred puts on a tough exterior to everyone else, only allowing herself to show any kind of vulnerability when she’s alone. It’s those scenes that really make everything else shine, as we see that no, this murder has not made her cold and callous, instead she’s just trying to bottle everything up so she can function and get things done. She’s not a perfect character and she’s not 100% in the right, which is another credit to the script. A lesser film would have toned down her flaws and focused solely on making the police look bad. But here, she’s allowed to be broken and angry, and McDormand plays that to perfection.

Which no, the police aren’t all bad. As Woody Harrelson’s character notes, sometimes murders just go unsolved and sometimes they get solved through dumb luck. After all, Ted Bundy didn’t land on a cop’s radar until he was stopped for a traffic violation. It would be so easy for the film to describe the police force as a group of bumbling, angry hicks, especially in today’s political climate, but the film avoids that. The men on this force are flawed and have their own issues, but so does everyone else in the town. Nobody’s perfect.

With that said, Sam Rockwell will get an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor in a fair and just world. He manages to take a dumb, semi-racist, aggressive police officer and carry him through a redemption arc of sorts that makes him completely likable by the end. It takes a lot of time and a lot of misfortune to get there, but I feel as though the character earns it through Rockwell’s performance. It also helps that Rockwell is easy to like in most of his films.

Woody Harrelson is the third big name here and yes, his Chief Willoughby is great. He has a restrained patience that again, a lesser film would ignore. In another film, he’d be copying Brian Dennehy in First Blood with how he treats Mildred. In this, he’s simply trying to do his job and control all of the various problems in his own life at the same time. The movie knows this, as does our lead character. There’s a great interrogation scene early own that ends with a shocking moment and a sudden change in behavior that feels earned, because these are two people that know each other and know that the circumstances are what put them at odds, nothing else.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri probably has some flaws on the surface. Perhaps the film won’t end as you foresee. Perhaps you’ll think the tone is all over the place. But that’s because it refuses to be boxed in to one particular style and uses as many as possible to tell a story that will have to feeling various emotions at different times. It’s depressing, it can make you angry, it will make you laugh and it’s even frustrating at times. But then, that’s life.

The final score: review Amazing
The 411
There's going to be a lot of awards buzz for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and rightfully so. It's a clever film that deftly balances humor, heart and anger in one movie that manages to be funny, bleak and slightly hopeful all at the same time. Go see this film while you can in a theater.