Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - 2017
Director(s): Martin McDonagh
Writer(s): Martin McDonagh
Cinematography by: Ben Davis
Editor(s): Jon Gregory
Cast: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Caleb Landry Jones and Peter Dinklage
Synopsis: A mother challenges her local law enforcement to catch the killer of her daughter after a year has passed since the crime.
Everyone who has lived long enough in this world knows that justice is one of the most elusive concepts we have developed as a society. As a result, many of us have developed our own sense of justice. For Mildred, played by Frances McDormand, her sense of justice includes kicking teens in the nuts and berries and going on the news in front of her billboards declaring how incompetent the police officers of the town are. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is jammed packed with dark humor and tense dramatic moments that create a balanced tone throughout the entire runtime.
Director Martin McDonagh is now three for three in his short but impressive resume. I consider In Bruges to be a modern classic and I loved Seven Psychopaths even if it wasn’t a critical success. Safe to say, Three Billboards has been on my must watch list of 2017 ever since it was announced. This has all the things we have come to expect and love from McDonagh - complex and fleshed out characters that feel like real human beings living through real life events. Every character presented to us feels as if they have lived their entire lives in this town and they know each other’s secrets and are a little tired of seeing them day in and day out. McDonagh has always been able to present us with characters and situations that fall somewhere in the grey area and asks his audience are they willing to go along with it. So far, I have and I enjoy every moment of it.
The cinematography from Ben Davis is beautiful. He somehow took three billboards and made them look and feel compelling. The opening sequence of this movie is just him showcasing the abandoned billboards that Mildred would later rent out. They are dirty and half-destroyed, mirroring how Mildred feels as the town is ready to move on but she still wants justice for her daughter. Another great touch that they did with the billboards is the old ad that one of them had. It’s a picture of a baby torn up as her daughter was also torn away from her.
McDonagh has always been privy to great performances. Colin Farrell in In Bruges and Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths are great examples. Now comes Frances McDormand as Mildred, and she gave - and I know it’s a cliché descriptor - a “tour de force” performance. She is a straight-shooting, no-BS woman who will not stop at nothing to see her justice get done. While we see her kick teens in the nuts and berries like I said above, we also see her save an upside-down bug by turning him over. Anyone in that situation would’ve just killed the bug, but she saw an innocent helpless being and gave him the help she wishes someone would’ve given her daughter. There are multiple raw scenes of her just reliving her pain and holding back her tears because she must be strong for her family. She is also hilarious and there is a scene with a priest that is my favorite speech of the year. Along with McDormand, Sam Rockwell as Dixon plays a flawed, racist, lovable, dumb, high tempered mama’s boy and many other adjectives rolled into one. He somehow took what I thought would end up being the “bad-guy” of the movie and gave him a great redeeming arc with a somewhat touching ending. This just highlights how creative McDonagh is when it comes to fleshing out characters. The rest of the cast is solid with one exception.
While I really enjoyed the movie, there is an aspect of the movie that took me out of the film. Abbie Cornish as Woody Harrelson’s wife was just flat-out bad. She had a weird accent that nobody else has in the movie that felt like she pulled it out of a 1950’s gangster movie. Some mannerisms she gave her character felt cold and calculated as if she was very aware of the way she was moving and talking. It didn’t feel natural. There is also a big pivotal moment in the film that is full of emotion and weight that fell flat due to her failure to convey heartbreak and sadness. I don’t mean to pile on or sound like I’m hating on her, but when you stand her next to two of the best performances of the year in McDormand and Rockwell, she stands out like a sore thumb with a weird accent.
Quick note: when we first see Woody sitting at the dinner table with his family I thought she was his oldest daughter. Woody is 56-years-old and she’s 35-years-old, so it’s not a huge stretch to think this. But with one of the characters dating a 19-year-old in the movie, I guess it’s not uncommon in this town.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a compelling drama that gets in deep with their character study and sprinkles in just enough dark humor to help with the weight of the themes being touched upon. This movie will test your sensibilities towards certain subjects and will ask you to re-think many values you hold true, with the definition of justice being the main one. This movie is far from perfect but it still ranks up there as the best of the year in my mind thanks to the script and the performances from McDormand and Rockwell. Frances McDormand is why I love movies.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is currently playing in theaters. It’s a good kick in the nuts and berries, go watch it.
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