Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri Film Review
Former playwright turned screenwriter and producer, Martin McDonagh delivers an intense, dark drama with moments of comedy, bound to leave every viewer on the edge of their seats--even after the curtain closes. Leaving no time to spare, McDonagh introduces us to Mildred, played by Frances McDormand, looking upon three deteriorating billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri from within her car. Eyes filled with tension and pain, McDormand convincingly captures the spirit of a woman whose daughter had just been “raped while dying,” a phrase Mildred would soon plaster in black on red across one of the billboards.
The three billboards, reading “Raped While Dying,” “Still No Arrests?,” and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?,” were paid for by Mildred to a local advertising agency after it seemed like there were no further advances from the local police station on the case of her daughter, who we soon learned was raped and killed 7 months prior. Her message is a direct threat to Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, in her attempt to pester the police force and simultaneously create attention. Because of this direct threat, we can deduce that there will be an ongoing battle between Mildred and the police throughout the movie, yet what we thought would be a very simple two-sided battle, ends up becoming a much more complicated web of disarray.
In the first interaction between Mildred and Chief Willoughby, we expect Willoughby to be somewhat of a racist, uninterested cop, part of a bigger problem within Red states, with no intention of finding the killer and rapist of Mildred’s daughter. Contrary to that belief, we are introduced to a very sincere Woody Harrelson who seems to genuinely care about the case and hopes to find Mildred’s daughter, almost as much as Mildred. In a moment of vulnerability, Chief Willoughby even reveals to Mildred that he has cancer, to which Mildred selfishly refers to her billboards and states, “They won’t be as effective after you croak.”
We start to see Mildred’s true colors while she is on her mission to pressure the law; she calls the church “culpable,” and while getting her teeth cleaned, drills a hole into the thumbnail of her dentist (one of many bloody scenes within the movie). In these actions, we start to understand the pain of a mother grieving, but instead of keeping her emotions within, she enables them in a physical way. We root for the McDormand who is so defiant in the face of the law and ultimately fighting for a greater cause, but she somehow ends up destroying the world around her while doing so. If not McDormand, who else would be able to play a hero with which we empathize so much with while also condoning each crazy action she makes in her quest for solitude?
Although McDonagh had a difficult time introducing Dixon, Sam Rockwell delivers an incredible performance as a racist cop who can’t perform his job well. Originally, he fits into the plotline in only choppy, spontaneous moments, yet by the closing credits, Rockwell is able to deliver one of the most convincing performances of the year. Dixon, a grown man living with his mother, brings a sense of lightness and comedy to the everlasting darkness within Ebbing, Missouri. A drunk, a loser, a failure, he almost seems completely unaware of the world around him or what goes on within it. He misses what’s happening half of the time while he’s listening to his earphones. Underneath this immaturity, Rockwell makes us feel as if Dixon has intelligence somewhere buried deep within his police uniform. In Ebbing, he’s easily dislikable, but Rockwell makes him matter.
Not for the faint of heart, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri will constantly have you questioning who and what you believe in. Every moment and every scene seems to be a point of tension and short-term resolve. It’s an authentic poetic commentary on the ongoing engagements between citizens and the police force, and how each person has their own personal struggle to deal with outside of the grander political scheme. A masterfully crafted puzzle, McDonagh transforms the small town of Ebbing into a site of mayhem through unprompted dialogue and tragic wide shots.
All stills credit to Fox Searchlight.
Running Time: 115 Minutes
Director: Martin McDonagh
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Film 4 Productions
Cutting Edge Group
Distribution Company: Fox Searchlight