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Sandy Journal

Dan's Review: Great performances boost "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri"

Nov 22, 2017 05:55PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - © 2017 Fox Searchlight.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (Fox Searchlight)

Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.

Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Kathryn Newton, Lucas Hedges.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh.



People have different way of expressing grief. Most folks work their way through the commonly-known “stages,” including anger, but some get stuck in the process, leading to several unpleasant consequences for themselves and those in proximity. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is Martin McDonagh’s interpretation of how one person deals with tragedy and injustice, starring Frances McDormand as a grieving mother bent on revenge and justice.

McDormand plays Mildred, a divorced mother whose prickly personality augments following the rape and murder of her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton). After months of a stalled police investigation, Mildred rents space in three billboards near her home that read in sequence, “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests,” “How come, Chief Willoughby?” The signs grabs the attention of Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his subordinate, Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell). Mildred shows no mercy in her attacks, even though Willoughby suffers from terminal cancer. Others suffer from Mildred’s caustic behavior, including her teenage son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) a would-be suitor James (Peter Dinklage), the billboard owner Red (Caleb Landry Jones) along her few friends and associates. Things get worse when Willoughby commits suicide, prompting an angry reaction from Officer Dixon, who beats Red nearly to death. The situation escalates further when Mildred burn the police station down and badly burns Dixon, who might have stumbled upon a break in her daughter’s murder. Mildred and Dixon, pushed to the extremes, find an uncommon bond as they try and sort out their next moves.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a quirky, coarse and profane dark comedy, propped up by three outstanding performances from McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell. All three actors should be considered for seasonal award consideration. McDonagh’s script and story holds back nothing, spontaneously spewing the darker consequences of anger. I have a few issues with McDonagh’s nihilism, especially in the film’s final act. I’m not sure what conclusions we can draw from the film, other than the simplistic moral offered by Penelope (Samara Weaving), the young mistress of Mildred’s ex-husband (John Hawkes) who pines that “violence begets greater violence.” Dixon’s sudden conversion from a bully racist cop into a compassionate crime-solver is also a head-scratcher. It’s also hard to feel sympathy for Mildred, who becomes more and more unlikable as the movie progresses.

All vague messages aside, Three Billboards is enjoyable on a level equal to experiencing a little catharsis, along with some great performances. What little humanity we can draw from the film is mired in a lot of inappropriate behavior, violence and profanity. if the main point is dark comedy, then McDonagh has succeeded. If you're looking for something deeper, it just misses the mark.

Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri Trailer