Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a white knuckle of a film. The newest film from writer/director Martin McDonagh, who previously helmed 2008’s In Bruges and 2012’s Seven Psychopaths (both of which I enjoyed a lot). He’s back with a timely film. With the subject matters at hand with the film, it could have gone one or two ways: either skim the surface or be overly exploited, but with McDonagh at the helm, he turns the film into something even more. In short, this is one of the very best films that I have seen in the theaters this year!
Mildred Hayes (Francis McDormand) has had enough. It’s been close to a year since her daughter, Angela, was murdered. No arrests have been made or any suspects questioned, and it has become a cold case. To take matters into her own hands, she decides to rent three billboards outside of the town, but close to her home, to call out Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for lack of progress. With this, Mildred hopes that it will put pressure on the police to finally solve the case. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg of what the film explores.
Three Billboards is a hot button film that presses on a lot of issues, especially in today’s climate. Some of the issues include racism, police brutality, and sexual assault. McDonagh touches on these subjects greatly and doesn’t hold back about his views on these, yet he never hits you over the head with what’s he’s trying to say. Similar with In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, the writing is brilliant and darkly funny at times. McDonagh knows how to balance the comedy with the drama that thankfully, the comedy doesn’t overshadow what’s transpiring on screen. It’s funny when it needs to be funny. McDonagh also does a great job in rounding out the characters in that they all feel three-dimensional and each has their own personality. By the end of their introductions, you know exactly who the characters are and how they act around people. In fact, it’s easy to identify with the characters and believe in the actions they take throughout the course of the 115-minute runtime. Behind everyone’s façade, McDonagh shows us the pain that they face, whether they face their demons externally or internally.
Acting wise, everyone shines in this. McDormand gives a fearless performance as Mildred, who’s just trying to find the answers to her daughter’s murder. She’s headstrong and sometimes a bull in the china shop. This might be the best role that she has had in a long time! In particular, a scene that involves her and the local priest that may just be one of the best-written scenes in a film this year. Harrelson (reuniting with McDonagh after Seven Psychopaths) puts in good work as Sheriff Willoughby. At first, you don’t know how to feel about him, but you quickly will. By far, the best performance from the film belongs to Sam Rockwell (also returning from Seven Psychopaths) as Officer Jason Dixon. It’s a powerhouse performance that Rockwell gives as a character who’s vile, despicable, insensitive yet sympathetic towards the end of the film. Rockwell’s the MVP of the film, and this is the type of role that could finally be his breakthrough performance. Don’t be surprised if he gets some awards love this season.
If there are any drawbacks that I had with Three Billboards, some of the characters could have been left out of the film or fleshed out a little bit more. In particular, while I’m a fan of Peter Dinklage, the subplot between Mildred and his character goes nowhere, and he’s basically not in the film enough to leave an impression. Likewise, there are scenes that run in circles and should have been condensed or left out entirely for a much tighter film. Because of these scenes, the pacing feels a little off at times.
Overall, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film for the here and now. This is a film that I enjoyed way better then what I was hoping for going into the screening. It’s a film that will stay with you long after you watch it. I hope that this film will spark discussions about what people saw on screen, including the ending that will surely be up for debate for years to come. With this film, McDonagh makes us confront what’s going on today in America. It’s angry and raw at times, but pushes for people to be held accountable for their actions. All we need to do sometimes is talk to the other side or see the world from a different perspective. This might just be McDonagh’s best film yet as a filmmaker. It’s one of the best films of the year, and a treasure. You should absolutely see this in the theater ASAP.