Welcome to the review of the big Golden Globe’s winner – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
IMDb summary: 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 (amazing title, tbh) was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, known for such films as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. He handled both jobs extremely well.
McDonagh was inspired to write this movie by actual billboards about a crime that he has seen while traveling somewhere in the southeast of the US. Before seeing this film, I knew its premise (and thought it was super unique) but I had no idea where the narrative would go. I’m happy to report that McDonagh took this story in an unexpected and as unique as its premise direction.
Three Billboards was a story of three characters (3 billboards, 3 leads), and, through these characters’ arcs, the movie was able to explore a plethora of themes. This picture was, in my mind, more of an exploration of these three characters rather than a crime drama with them in it.
To begin with, the writing for the grieving mother was just spectacular. It was refreshing to see a character allowed to grieve openly and express her anger (it a small step from pain to anger) rather than bottling it up (our society likes us to grieve in private and be done quickly so that we could rejoin society as productive members as soon as possible). The way the film visualized pain – by focusing it on the billboards – was also super interesting. The whole interplay/juxtaposition between typically emotionless corporate advertising spaces (a.k.a. the billboards) and highly emotional plea of a grieving mother was fascinating. Also, the film did a good job of showing the extremism of Mildred (the mother) but also of making her actions understandable – the balance was just right. The flashbacks, showing the mother’s and daughter’s last moments together, also added so much depth to the story.
The second lead – the unfit police officer – was the most unexpected character for me. He began the film as an openly racist and homophobic cop – just an awful human being, but also, simultaneously, a sad little person. However, the script then added some little extraordinary details that intrigued me, like his enjoyment of comic books, ABBA, and classical music. I could not reconcile his worldview and his hobbies in my mind. Also, I expected the movie to sideline him or just use the character to build the atmosphere, but Dixon (that’s his name) actually became the main player as a story unraveled and experienced real growth. While I don’t think I agree that he had the makings of a good cop, he definitely had the capacity to become a decent person (through experience and education). In addition, Three Billboards’ writing was clever about humanizing the character without being too emphatic – found that perfect balance again.
The third lead, the town’s sheriff, was the character the easiest to sympathize with as he was portrayed as being stuck in an impossible position, mediating between a grieving mother and an unfit police force. This type of a police vs, citizen confrontation hasn’t been seen much in pictures recently, mostly because the majority of police and citizen relations have been explored through the perspective of race. Anyways, the town’s sheriff actually seemed like a good person, who cared about his job and his family. His personal arc, relating to his illness, was an unexpected but realistic inclusion, that added some layers to his character.
Three Billboards also presented an interesting dichotomy between the society and the individual: the town’s reaction to the billboards and the prejudice against Mildred and the siding with the police force were both shocking to me and didn’t paint the best picture of the middle America that is already pretty bad after the recent election (which isn’t that recent).
Lastly, the picture had a highly unexpected ending in the team-up of the mother and the police officer. Their final decision – taking justice into their owns hands without substantial proof – was not easy to agree with. And yet, the fact that their target was spewing such horrible things at the bar and was in the military (which is supposed to consists of people working for the good of society rather than be an example of the worst of it) kinda made me understand Mildred’s and Dixon’s decision. And even though, their final resolution, as well as the previous actions of a mother, might not be the healthiest or the most societally acceptable example of how to deal with grief, it is a potential example, nonetheless. Hey, whatever works, I guess?
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, while impeccably written, was also well directed. The pacing was great – the movie was intense and emotional all throughout. The cinematography was wonderful too – the visual set-up (opening the movie with the imagery of the billboards) was highly effective and straight to the point. The mobile frame and the handheld camera throughout the rest of the film added that feeling of realism that indie movies have. The whole atmosphere of the movie was also a bit Coen-esque (more Coen-y than the Coen brothers’ own film from last year – Suburbicon). A couple of my favorite scenes in the picture (mostly because they were unexpected) were Mildred’s confrontation with the priest (if you want to find out more about her accusations, watch Spotlight – an Oscar winner from 2 years ago) and her scene with the dentist (that one was especially shocking but of the good kind of shock value).
- Frances McDormand was truly brilliant as Mildred Hayes. I believe that her performance here was as good as the one in Fargo, for which she won an Oscar, and I’m hoping that she will get another Academy Award this year.
- Woody Harrelson (Triple 9, The Hunger Games, Now You See Me, The Glass Castle, War For The Planet Of The Apes) was also really good as Sheriff Bill Willoughby. His performance was short (ended quite suddenly) but one of the best of his that I’ve seen (then again, he is always good even if the movie itself is lacking).
- Sam Rockwell delivered his greatest performance as Officer Jason Dixon – he made that character seem like a real person rather than a caricature. I’m so glad that Rockwell is finally getting the recognition he deserves – he definitely should have gotten more awards nominations in the past, especially for 2009’s Moon.
- On the supporting front, Peter Dinklage had a cameo role and it was a bit weird seeing him here – he and Tyrion Lannister have become one in my mind (playing such an iconic character is both a blessing and a curse). A few actors from other awards nominees’ also had roles here, including Lucas Hedges (was nominated for Manchester by the Sea last year and played a similar role in this film – that of a grieving teenager; he is also in Ladybird – another huge contender this awards season) and Caleb Landry Jones (who appeared in Get Out – the most mainstream film this awards season).
In short, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a perfectly balanced and powerful drama about grief, pain, and anger that was brought to life by 3 amazing acting performances.