Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

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This movie won the Golden Globe for Best Picture and stars Frances McDormand, the Oscar winner for Fargo a number of years ago. I had to see it, if only to enjoy another great performance from her. She didn’t disappoint, and there were incredibly strong performances from Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. There’s also a funny cameo from Peter Dinklage – you might know him from Game of Thrones.

The movie is dark, very dark, but it also has moments of humor, deriving from the foibles of the characters.

Seven months have passed since Mildred Hayes’ teenage daughter was raped and burned to death. There has been no movement in the case, so Mildred decides to light a fire under the Chief of Police and buys advertising on three billboards on a road outside of town. Her message asked why Chief Willoughby hasn’t made any progress on the case. The citizens of Ebbing don’t take kindly to her message – Willoughby is beloved in the town and he is also dying of pancreatic cancer. Harrelson makes Willoughby a teddy bear, the voice of moderation and encouragement to his deputies and a loving, if foul-mouthed husband and father. He inhabits this role like an old slipper, and he patiently and sympathetically explains to Mildred why the case has stymied his department.

When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon, played by Sam Rockwell, takes up Willoughby’s cause, the battle between Mildred and the town is only exacerbated. Dixon is racist with a penchant for violence and is an immature mother’s boy, His mother, played by Sandy Martin, is a loving but bitter, evil-minded spider.

Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand in the film "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" (Fox Searchlight/Merrick Morton)

McDormand plays Mildred with single-minded, mirthless, laser focused determination to find her daughter’s killer. Her life would crush any other woman; her husband has left her for a brainless but beautiful 19-year-old and she works long hours in a tiny gift shop, where she makes just enough money to support her teenage son and herself. He husband was a violent abuser, she was happy to see him go, but he’s not out of her life and returns to berate her about the billboards. Mildred never smiles, never reacts to ill will except with a sharp tongue. Her grief has set her in stone, made her ugly, and the viewer wonders if she qualifies as a human being.

The writer-director, Martin McDonagh, plays comedy against violence and wrings laughter out of unthinkable situations.  He paints the characters in uncompromising colors, but gives you a sense, in the end, of what they might become.

The only jarring note for me was the actor playing Willoughby’s wife – Abby Cornish. She’s two decades younger, glaringly glam and has an Australian accent. Her casting is thought to be a reason why McDonagh was snubbed for an Oscar nomination.

There are some intense moments of violence, such that I would not recommend this movie to anyone under the age of 18.  For everyone else, I think this is a must-see.



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