Film Review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
We are overdue for another film that pits a woman, acting singularly, working against the establishment. The last film that depicted this was Miss Sloane, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is another welcome addition. With the current news flooded with sexual harassment claims by women against “powerful” men, Three Billboards comes along to tell the story of a truly strong woman who goes up against those in power to do right by her murdered daughter.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Three Billboards continues his genre of drama mixed with comedy. The plot is a serious one, focusing on Mildred (Frances McDormand) and her raw, desperate will to see the murderer of her daughter brought to justice. The police in Ebbing have not caught anyone for the murder, and the case is at a standstill. The three derelict and forgotten billboards on her way into town catch her attention, and she uses them to stir the pot, which they do. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is the focus of her wrath, and officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) does not take kindly to someone targeting his friend. Because of it’s a small town, the pot has been stirred and now is officially boiling over. What plays out in Ebbing is both deserved and appalling.
It did not occur to me until the opening of the film that it is very much a modern Western. Take away the modern elements, give everyone horses and guns, and the story is very much the same. The film has this rough edge to it that makes it more dramatic, crazy even. The cast of characters is quite eclectic running the gamut from a racist, idiotic police officer to a little person, James (Peter Dinklage), with a crush on Mildred. Pair those two with the ex-husband, Charlie (John Hawkes) who dates a not-too-bright (former) zookeeper and a grieving brother, Robbie (Lucas Hedges) who is completely embarrassed by his mother’s stunt.
The heart of Three Billboards is Mildred, and likewise, the star is Frances McDormand. She takes her heartbroken soul, her guiltiness, and transforms it into a weapon with the billboards being the catalyst. Frances McDormand does not play Mildred as your typical grieving mother. There is nothing typical about Mildred except the love for her children. She has the guffaw to go up against the police and not care what anyone thinks. There are repercussions for such actions, especially in a small town, but the will of this mother is strong. There are cracks in this woman that surface when things go south, or her actions have touched those she did not mean to hurt. They reveal the underlying vulnerability, something that Mildred would never willingly show to others. This is a powerful performance by Frances McDormand, one that has no equals thus far this year. It is not a typical role, and the resulting portrayal by McDormand is nothing short of brilliant as she takes the pages of the script and transforms them into something extraordinary.
The film runs a bit long with a close to two-hour runtime. This could have been alleviated by removing the extraneous scenes with Willoughby. We have already established that Mildred is the focus of this story, but the asides to make Willoughby a more vulnerable character were not needed. There is a scene by the lake with him and his wife (Abbie Cornish) that could have been removed completely without affecting the resulting conclusion of his character. Mildred could have been on the screen the whole time, and I would have been happy. While I did not mind the scenes with Dixon, as his transformation would have made no sense without them, it is truly frustrating to want to see more of the main character and be taken away from her to see more of less interesting ones. The character of the Willoughby’s wife seemed glaringly miscast as the Australian accent of Cornish may have been confused with a Texan drawl, given that she did not have many lines. Cornish seems like an odd choice for the wife of a small-town police chief, as it leaves the question of how this guy met an Australian beauty and dragged her to live in this place.
Even with misgivings, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is still a must-see film. Frances McDormand’s performance alone is worth the ticket price. The cast is almost perfect, with all these actors together making this one of the more eclectic casts of the year. It straddles the line between drama and comedy, giving the audience some light-hearted moments while Mildred struggles for the truth, one that does not come easily.