Movie Review: 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'
Martin McDonagh hits hard with his most human film yet.
Plot Summary: After her daughter is murdered, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides to get the search for her daughter’s killer back into the public eye. Posting three billboards criticising the Ebbing police department, Mildred’s defiant act divides her small town and pits her against the local police department.
Anger is an emotion that defines us; it can be a driving force, push us forward, and strengthen resolve. But hold onto it for too long and it can twist and contort us into something bitter and resentful. Digging deep into the poisonous effect of grief, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri offers one of the most compelling and emotional looks at the consequences of death and the all consuming grief that follows.
Like much of writer and director Martin McDonagh’s previous work, Three Billboards thrives on conflict. At the centre is the tormented Mildred Hayes. Desperate to bring her daughter’s killer to justice, Hayes rents three billboards on a rarely used Ebbing back road. Printed on a striking blood red backdrop, Mildred’s message is loud, emphatic, and flammatory "Raped while dying … Still no Arrests? … How come, Sheriff Willoughby?”
Incurring the wrath of the local press, citizens, and police department, Mildred puts herself on a collision course with the entire town. Unwavering in her quest for justice, the focal point for Mildred’s rage is Ebbing’s diligent sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a well-respected man suffering from pancreatic cancer that the grieving mother has little time for. Matter-of-factly stating her signs “won’t be as effective after you croak,” the saddening truth of Three Billboards comes bubbling to the surface. Consumed by an unbridled anger and bitterness, Mildred’s unwavering hatred sends her down a road from which there is no turning back, playing into the bittersweet conclusion of McDonagh’s excellent screenplay.
Stained by a hard acidic wit, Three Billboards has the sharpness that you’d expect from the man who wrote In Bruges. Prone to expletive laden rants, Hayes’ razor sharp tongue defines her. Her verbal wars with bumbling bigots, priests, and her ex-husband are undeniably hilarious, but equally makes Mildred’s one-woman crusade as deeply upsetting as it is compelling.
Three Billboards branches out further than its painful exploration of the unbearable grief. Sliding in a story of redemption, the arch of thuggish officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is marvellously beautiful. A racist mummy’s boy Dixon transforms from a petulant alcoholic man-child into an outright hero. Three Billboards scratches the surface of some fascinating areas. Filled with subtle truths about race relations, media exploitation and mortality all creep in. Although these ideas are never fully addressed, McDonagh blends them into the conversation enough for them to be provocative.
A heart-breaking story impossible to look away from, Three Billboards is powerful, moving, and heart-breaking. Certainly McDonagh’s most human work, previous films may be as sharp and biting, but the heart and emotion of Three Billboards dwarfs everything prior. Its cast is exemplary, and Francis McDormand gives an Oscar worthy performance. Many Oscar films make you cry, fewer make you laugh, and this one does both.