Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Reviewed
The story centers on Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), whose daughter was brutally murdered several months prior to the start of the film. The Ebbing, Missouri police department has made no arrests, and seemingly no progress on the case whatsoever. Enraged and heartbroken, Mildred hatches the idea to rent three billboards; directly calling out the local Sheriff, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), in an attempt to pressure law enforcement into further investigation. The townspeople have dramatically varying reactions, and Mildred is left to explain herself to not only the local police, but also her own family. The film is directed by Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges, “Seven Psychopaths”), and is easily one of the most unpredictable, emotionally-charged narratives of the entire year.
It is difficult to classify “Three Billboards” as one single genre due to its complete tonal and moral ambiguity. Similar to McDonagh’s previous work, the film has elements of a comedy, but at its core, it is a drama. We as an audience are often confronted with a situation where there is no easy solution. In this world, there is no perfect superhero with a “specific set of skills” who has all the answers. What we are presented with is a flawed situation, through the eyes of many flawed characters, and the film never forgets it. The story never attempts to force you into feeling one way or another about the situation. It is not afraid to have a protagonist whose morality is constantly up for debate. Do you agree with her no-nonsense approach, or has she crossed the line? The film presents opposing perspectives with equal consideration, and respects its audience enough to decide which side of the argument they believe holds more validity. This is very rare in modern American cinema.
Complex motivations are brought to life magnificently by the extremely talented cast. While nearly every performance is a powerhouse, two major standouts are Frances McDormand, and Sam Rockwell; both appearing very likely to receive Oscar nominations, at least. While in many ways, Sam Rockwell’s Officer Dixon is the antagonist of the film, he and Mildred Hayes share a striking amount of similarities. Both are under heavy public scrutiny within the film, and both make decisions that negatively impact innocent people. Yet, their causes are so comprehensible that you always understand their reasoning, even when you strongly disagree. Meanwhile, both characters have starkly contrasting, morally opposing arcs, which constantly force you to reevaluate your own personal feelings and opinions.
Not only does the film juggle numerous sub-plots, and a large, diverse assortment of characters, but it manages to convey drastically different emotions, quite often at the same time. These cycles of familial abuse, and tragedy are so fully realized that the film is frequently enabled to play intensely dark situations for comedy. Additionally, the myriad of social issues that would naturally arise in this type of situation are commented on with respect, class and intelligence. While sustaining a beautifully heartbreaking narrative and a fascinating character study, it somehow finds time to comment on issues like police brutality, discrimination, corruption, and the lack of responsive action against sexual abuse. It would be accurate to call this an “important” film, for many reasons.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is one of the most complicated, emotional, and well-balanced films of the year. It is also this writer’s personal opinion that it has a solid chance of taking home best picture in 2018.