Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri garnered several Oscar nominations and came away with two wins; Best Actress for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell for Best Supporting Actor. They are both deserving, too. Their performances were definitely tops but there was not much talk about Woody Harrelson. He was nominated for Best Supporting Actor, too, but no one gave him much of a chance. Regardless, they were all terrific in this excellent film (to my understanding, based loosely on a true story) about a woman named Mildred (McDormand) who takes what meager funds she has to rent three billboards that challenge the local police to find her daughter’s killer or killers.
Mildred even names the local police chief, Willoughby (Harrelson) as well as the whole police force, which does not sit well with anyone in Ebbing. Everyone, even her abusive ex-husband, tries to reason with her to take them down but she refuses. Willoughby tries to appease her rationally but his deputy, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a bit more direct and let me just leave it at that. Mildred’s son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges, so good in last year’s Manchester by the Sea) tries to understand but still grapples with whether he believes this tactic is worth all of the consternation. He apparently suffers ridicule at school but still manages to support his mother.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a powerful film about loss, trying to see your way through a personal tragedy and above all, forgiveness. Mildred is distraught but, she is tough as nails. Nothing budges her to see any other way than the course of her actions regarding the billboards, even when a local dentist tries some radical dental hygiene on her. McDormand’s performance is stellar. She is able to catch all of the fury and heartbreak that simmers in Mildred. She never overacts or tries to stretch the character’s credibility. It is a perfect performance.
Sam Rockwell as the racist and corrupt local deputy is a hoot. His Jason Dixon is not altogether bright and still lives with his mother and you can see where he gets his vinegar towards others, too. Woody Harrelson plays the terminally ill chief of police and he does some of his best work, here. He is a fine actor who has been plugging away since he was in Cheers and it is finally starting to pay off with some juicy roles. His Chief Willougby, understands Mildred’s disappointment but does not see what the three billboards will accomplish. But, there is a quieter moment in the film which shows just how good of a man he is inside.
There are so many tender moments in this film, it is hard to count them. People who might not be the nicest people in the world but when the chips are down, they do the right thing. This might be a film about loss, but it is a film about redemption in the worst of conditions. Director and writer McDonagh does an amazing job of writing a heartfelt and intelligent script that really gets to the meat of these characters but he maintains the film’s pacing and energy. It never is boring or uninteresting and that is a testament to McDonagh’s ability to entertain. He has made an enormously character study that is fascinating to watch.
Even the supporting characters are given some heft. Abbie Cornish has some great moments as Chief Willoughby’s wife. John Hawkes is truly despicable as Mildred’s ex-husband and Peter Dinklage as the town “midget” who has a soft spot for Mildred, is also solid. Caleb Landry Jones and Kerry Condon add some levity as the sleazy couple who rent the billboards to Mildred. Once again, though, this is a film about people doing the right thing so no how bad they might seem on the surface, underneath they will do the right thing. Well, almost all of them do.
As is the case with The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is worthy of the Oscar accolades that were given. Both are good films. But, if I had a single complaint about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri it would be that the conclusion doesn’t jibe with the rest of the film’s message. It is inconclusive and does not really come to a conclusion. Having said that, there are so many heartbreaking moments, uplifting moments and truly funny moments that I didn’t care if the ending was unfulfilling. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a great film Not bad for only being Martin McDonagh’s third film. This guy is a major talent.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – ****1/2 out of 5
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Rated R for graphic language, some violence, some gore, nudity, adult situations
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Run time is 115 minutes
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is now available on DVD, On Demand and pay subscription services (digital download). Check your local listings for pricing and availability.