Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Reviewed
By Sam Baldwin
A young girl is brutally raped and murdered in Ebbing, Missouri. Months pass with no culprit, arrest, or resolution. The small town police force has nearly given up on the case.
Enter Mildred Hayes, the grieving and rancorous mother of the deceased, played by Frances McDormand, who, in her vengeful quest for resolution, rents the titular, decrepit billboards on the outskirts of town. She plasters each billboard with a searing message backed by glowing red paint.
“RAPED WHILE DYING”
“AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”
“HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”
Thus begins Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, the award-winning, Oscar-nominated film. The film deserves every award that it has received so far. Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is bold, heartbreaking, thought-provoking, and full of pitch-black humor.
The plot made me sob, then laugh through my tears, and then cry once again within two minutes. And while I may have looked crazy, this is a testament to the film’s power, and the phenomenal performances of Frances Mcdormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell.
Simply put, Three Billboards is a film about anger and revenge. Though below the surface, it is so much more complicated. Themes of violence, death, morality, grief, and police corruption are all intertwined and explored.
But what sets Three Billboards apart is not the suspense, unexpected violence, or dark humor—although, each of those aspects did make the film the Oscar nominee that it is. What stood out was the raw emotion portrayed by both Mcdormand as Mildred Hayes, and Harrelson as the ailing Chief of Police, Willoughby.
Mildred is unpredictable, reckless, and cruel at times, but in certain moments, Willoughby cracks her tough exterior, revealing a struggling mother crippled by grief. Meanwhile, Harrelson completely nails his role of the jaded chief of police, without losing his signature cynical wit.
While I have hundreds of glowing things to say about Three Billboards, my one point of criticism lies in Sam Rockwell’s character, Officer Jason Dixon. Dixon is the police force’s nasty, dumb-witted, and violent racist. He uses depraved tactics to get his way, and is almost proud to admit that he tortured a black man under police custody. However, after reading a letter from Willoughby urging him to find love and become a better man, Dixon seems to instantly internalize the advice, doing a complete 180.
I take issue with this speedy character development, as it diminishes the prior atrocious acts that Dixon supposedly commits. My problem here is not with the theme of racism in the film—in fact, I think that it was entirely relevant in setting the scene in Ebbing, and rounded out the film’s theme of corrupt policing—but with the film’s ease in granting Dixon forgiveness and redemption in the face of the bigotry. That such a violent and immature individual could transform into a “new man” in a matter of days felt unrealistic.
Personally, though, I was able to look past this flaw, and consider Three Billboards to be an outstanding film. In fact, while in the theater, I did not pay any notice to the issue of Dixon’s character development. The film was so well acted, so suspenseful, and so emotionally turbulent that my only focus was in hoping that the crime might be resolved, or that the film would never end. I was enraptured, even after I left the theater, and continued to mentally debrief the story for hours.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the type of film that spurs conversation, debate, and reflection, making it a sure-fire Oscar nominee—and hopefully, a winner.