Seven months after her daughter died while being violently raped, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents out three billboards on a rural road just outside her hometown of Ebbing in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
Let down by the police’s lack of results after seven months, Mildred calls out the police chief (Woody Harrelson) on the billboards in bold black letters behind a striking scarlet background: “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests,” “How come, Chief Willoughby?”
Though her message successfully gains police attention, Mildred soon begins receiving some nasty backlash from the town in defense of the beloved chief. What ensues is a darkly comical tale of profound human suffering that’s sincere in its message and often humorous in its delivery.
In a time of polarizing political and social conflict, writer and director Martin McDonagh tackles rough subject matter with a wry sense of humor. The backwards town of Ebbing is full of racists, a violent police force and all other manners of despicable people. Sam Rockwell’s delinquent policeman, Jason Dixon, is especially memorable through a brutish, ill-mannered performance.
These tricky topics are smartly lampooned through the film’s irreverent script and McDormand’s and Harrelson’s offbeat performances. The pain and anger of losing a child conveys itself strongly through Mildred’s mean-spirited sarcasm, and it’s great seeing how the townsfolk retaliate back. Though the dark humor can lean towards absurdism at times, it always feels genuine and relevant toward the social critiques at work throughout the piece.
I also absolutely relished the excellent score and soundtrack. The music slings a neat Western vibe, elevating the conflicts between Mildred and the town.
To boot, there are some very welcome messages regarding compassion and change. As cynical as it may get “Three Billboards” presents a dynamic view of the world in which characters grow, recede and sometimes change for the better. It would do us well to learn from them.
I enjoyed the film quite a bit, though it did begin to stutter a little around the third act.
Sometimes some subplots completely disappeared. Others — particularly one involving a fire, dinner and Peter Dinklage — felt unnecessary and hampered the overall flow of the narrative.
There was a great confrontation (with great accompanying music) that was cut alongside a dinner scene. While I was on the edge of my seat for the former, I was wholly disinterested in the latter. A questionable CGI doe rounds out my list of complaints.
With great performances, humor and highly relevant social commentary, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is another excellent contender for the upcoming awards season.
Hector Valverede is a culture reporter with the Daily Lobo. He primarily writes movie reviews. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @hpvalverde.