Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 😅 Film Review

Written by Thelonia

Could anyone but Frances McDormand have done this? I think the fuck not.

The latest from In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths director Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a dark but hilarious film centered around a rural town in Missouri, (Ebbing, in case it wasn't clear), where Mildred Hayes (Frances McDonald) has rented three billboards to call out the police department, whom she blames for the lack of a resolution on her daughter's murder case.  The billboards, which read "Raped while dying," "And still no arrests," "How come, Chief Willoughby?" cause an upheaval in the small community, where sympathies quickly turn against Mildred, particularly since it's an open secret that Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), called out by name on the billboards, is dying of cancer.

At the heart of the film is the powerhouse performance by Frances McDormand, who plays Mildred as a dry and stoic but deeply feeling woman whose grief has caused her to become a woman obsessed (to the detriment of almost everyone around her), including her son, who is clearly suffering in his own way.

To be fair to Mildred, she's not getting a lot of help from the police, whom the characters keep reminding us have been more involved in the 'torturing' and subsequent cover up of said torturing of a black man during an interrogation, instead of investigating the murder (though, as the Chief says, it's not like there's much to go on to begin with). Still, these injustices don't do great things to build confidence in the justice system in this town.

The amount of side-eye in this film is truly impressive.

The casting in this film is so excellent. So many of the actors, even if they only have a few scenes, just knock it out of the park. This is in part due to the excellent writing and directing but also has to do with the casting, which in some cases, makes me really wonder if the script was written before or after casting (I could imagine no one else as Mildred, but also, they had to have gotten Peter Dinklage before writing his part, right?).

When Peter Dinklage walked out I wanted to yell at him to come back,
but also he's probably better off getting out of this plot while he can.

Sam Rockwell, who I thought I would nonstop associate with his character in Galaxy Quest, manages to deliver a really amazing performance as this truly piece-of-shit cop who still manages to get you at the very least feeling for him by the end.

(Also his mom (Sandy Miller) is Mac's mom from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, which made me very happy even though she was saying horrible, horrible things. God, I love her.)

Dixon and Mac: truly, lost brothers, at least in terrible-ness and sad, sad comedy.

At the same time, I've definitely seen a good amount of people who couldn't stand this movie for its aspects that are the most hard to confront: there is a place for people who feel like it's patronizing towards 'small-town America,' and leans in a bit too much on the racist/homophobic aspects. I'd say that this is less an exploitation and more of a leaning in to the casual hatred that exists not just in rural America but just everywhere. The one criticism in this vein that I think has some merit is in relation to the women other than Mildred: there are not that many women in the film, and of that small number we have two ditsy pretty girls who are there to be the butt of jokes (though I would say that these two women are both portrayed better than the Chief's bland blonde wife, (who is inexplicably Australian)). I would also say that the absence of woman and proliferation of men in Mildred's life seems to me to reflect her life without her daughter's presence, and the astounding proliferation of truly, truly terrible men (not you, Peter Dinklage, please come back).

At first glance, Three Billboards may seem like it's going to be a murder mystery where everything is going to be about the murder and solving it. But very early on, you find out that there is no evidence to follow, and the case is completely cold, so chances of solving it are very low. The rest of the film is, in fact, a rumination on the petty cruelty of people, particularly in small communities where everyone knows each other's business.And honestly, that's much more true to life than a veritable whodunit that wraps up neatly with a bow on top.

(I'm going to address the ending here, so SPOILERS)
The ending, as unsatisfying as it is (in terms of not solving the daughter's murder), works perfectly for me. The implication that the crime committed against Angela, horrifying as it was, was not unique, was one that was truly gut-wrenching (particularly the implication that the man the movie leads you to hope is the murderer did something against a woman in the Middle East, but was protected by his military status). Themes of "brotherhood" in toxic masculinity and endless cycles of violence with no justice culminate in an open-ended ending where Mildred and Dixon drive off to confront (and perhaps murder) this potential scumbag. Personally, I hope they do not actually commit murder, because that's just going to backfire (although that would fit most of the actions in the film), but instead find some peace and hopefully a sort of closure.

All in all, if you like dark comedies, and are ready to see the performance that I'm really hoping wins Frances McDormand an Oscar (prayer circles start now, thanks), then definitely give Three Billboards a shot, though I'd make sure you have a strong stomach for violence both verbal, physical, and emotional, even if the whole thing is layered in a sadly hilarious frame.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is currently in theaters.

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