Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
It’s so rare that you get a story at the movies that is absolutely original and told by a director who’s a master of the craft. You get both in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri because in this case it was written and directed by the same person, Martin McDonagh. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell all turned in Oscar-worthy performances, in my opinion. But of Martin McDonagh doesn’t get a nomination for best screenplay, well, Hollywood gets what it deserves.
You know from the trailer that McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a mother who is distraught over the brutal murder of her daughter. Local Police Chief Willoughby has apparently not been working on the case at all and after 7 months there’s no leads, no clues, no hope of bringing the killers to justice. In a desperate attempt to bring pressure on Willoughby, Mildred rents space on three billboards on the edge of town in hopes of shaming Willoughby into action. Willoughby will have none of it.
That’s the starting point. As various people in the small town start taking sides, you get introduced to a cast of characters that are all, in one way or another, down on their luck and flawed. It’s amazing how quickly it all spirals out of control. There’s arson, barfights, throwing people out of windows, lawsuits, arrests. It goes on and on. It’s a lot of action for such a small town.
There are lots of movies where I didn’t know what the protagonist was going to do at the end of the movie. But in this movie, there were many characters I was emotionally invested in and I had no idea what they were going to do next. What’s the billboard ad salesman going to do when threatened with lawsuits over the billboards? What’s the dope smoking friend going to do when bullied by racist police? What’s the town midget (Peter Dinklage) going to do when he witnesses a violent crime? What’s Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell, who nearly steals the show) going to do when he loses the only thing he could claim to be any good at?
There are at least three points in the movie where I thought I knew how the movie was going to play out or I at least knew what the theme of the move was going to be. It’s a movie about race! Nope. It’s a movie about moral decay! Nope. It’s a movie about tragedies tearing families apart! Nope. (well, kinda sorta, maybe).
In the end I think the movie is about what happens to people when they’ve got nothing left to lose and they become absolutely fearless. It’s not til then that you know (or even they know) what they’re willing to hold on to and what they are willing to let go of. And it’s fascinating.