Film Review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


DIRECTED BY: Martin McDonagh

STARRING: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Kathryn Newton, Kerry Condon, Željko Ivanek, Amanda Warren, Sandy Martin, Christopher Berry and Nick Searcy

 

SYNOPSIS

A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark comedy that has us following Mildred Hayes, a divorced mother that is still grieving the rape and murder of her teenage daughter Angela several months ago. Angry with the lack of progress in the investigation into her daughter’s murder, she rents three billboards abandoned near her home, putting up three signs with a controversial message directed at Sheriff Bill Willoughby. As the community are upset over the billboards, especially as it’s directed towards the Sheriff, which an open secret about Willoughby adds to their disapproval, officer Jason Dixon gets involved in their spat, which makes a bad situation worse.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the latest feature from writer/director Martin McDonagh, who brought us dark-comedies In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. The film focuses on Mildred Hayes, a mother still grieving over the rape and murder of her daughter that decides to rent three billboards and put up messages directing not only to the the lack of progress with the investigation, but at Sheriff Bill Willoughby. Once the small town learns about the billboards, there’s disapproval amongst a few, including Officer Jason Dixon, leading to Mildred Hayes coming to blows with just about everyone.

 

The film sets up the conflict of Mildred Hayes, angered by how the police have left her daughters case unsolved after seven months, against the police, angered by how Mildred is putting them on notice and evening attracting media attention about the use of the billboards. Once the message on the billboards go up, a chain of events are set as anger battles anger, with Mildred being brash and unflinching in her methods of getting what she wants from the police, which is to find her daughter’s murderer and god forbid anyone that gets caught in her wrath if they dare question her actions. Frances McDormand is terrific here as Mildred Hayes, a woman with an amoral attitude whose grief has now turned to anger and while some of her actions question whether she’s the so-called ‘hero’ you’d want to root her, it’s the quiet, more sombre scenes (one in particular involving a deer around the area of the billboards) that show us Mildred at her most vulnerable, hoping for closure to come. The supporting ensemble is very good too, from Woody Harrelson’s Bill Willoughby, the Chief that’s looking into the case whilst dealing with his own personal issues, to Sam Rockwell’s dumb-witted racist officer Jason Dixon, even down to Peter Dinklage’s James, a man that has a crush on Mildred. McDonagh’s directing is very good here, particularly a one-shot sequence involving Dixon going from the police station to the building across the street and back. The dialogue is sharp in certain scenes, from Mildred’s conversation with Nick Searcy’s Father Montgomery, to her talking to the deer, as well as the restaurant scene between her and Dinklage’s James. I also thought the cinematography from Ben Davis was really good as well.

 

Martin McDonagh is no stranger to making dark comedies, evidenced by his previous works In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, but here he attempts to drive the drama forward in key moments in the plot and some didn’t work for me, as either the characters were too cartoonish to begin with (Dixon) or too one-note (Anne Willoughby) that the emotional beats didn’t work for me. Speaking of Dixon, while Sam Rockwell’s performance is as great as you’d expect of an actor of his calibre, I already heard of the issues some people had with his character arc and upon reflection after watching the film a few times, I can understand how his supposed redemptive arc rubs viewers the wrong way due to what we know of the characters racist, violent tendencies, but for me the character by the end is still the same asshole we seen at the start. I can also understand how some are questioning how the film handles certain issues such as racism, domestic violence and police brutality, as some are wondering why highlight these issues yet not have anything to say about it? This may also have lead audiences to being peeved by the films final act, right up to the closing credits as the film might not give you the closure wrapped in a bow that you could be hoping for, but I actually liked the ending. The score for the film though didn’t do anything for me, which is a shame as I’ve liked Carter Burwell’s previous collaborations with McDonagh on In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.

 

VERDICT

A film that is as messy as life itself, Three Billboards is a somewhat entertaining film from Martin McDonagh that remains morally ambiguous once the credits start to roll. The cast are great, with the particular standout of course being the lead Frances McDormand. It’s the vulgar, mean-spirited nature of showcasing anger battling anger that can come across as off-putting for some.  7/10

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