Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
by George Wolf
In any form, great writing is a joy to behold. On the movie screen, pair it with skilled actors and you’re more than halfway home to a memorable experience.
Three Billboards… gets all the way home.
Writer/director Martin McDonagh provides his stellar ensemble with smart, insightful dialog that crackles with bite, poignancy and scattershot hilarity. His tale is offbeat but urgent and welcome, speaking as it does to grief, compassion, and navigating the contrasts between the good and evil in our flawed selves.
Frances McDormand is sensational as Mildred, a woman still haunted by the unsolved murder of her daughter seven months earlier. Passing by a series of abandoned billboards on her rural drive home one evening, Mildred decides to rent them, publicly asking Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, capping off a year of multiple great performances) why there have been no arrests.
This is not a popular move, not with the Sheriff, his violent deputy (Sam Rockwell – fantastic), Mildred’s abusive ex-husband (John Hawkes), her embarrassed son (Lucas Hedges) or…who else ya got?
Only an enthusiastic co-worker (Amanda Warren) and a hopeful suitor (Peter Dinklage) offer support, leaving Mildred as a small-town pariah.
She is unmoved, and McDormand crafts Mildred with meaningful layers, as a foul-mouthed firebrand lashing out at injustice and sorrow with a defiant lack of concern for consequence. She is absolutely award-worthy, as are Rockwell and Harrelson, and as their character arcs take unexpected detours, the film displays its relevant social conscience through both subtlety and aggression.
McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) compliments his usual knack for piercing wordplay with well-paced visual storytelling and some downright shocking tonal shifts. We are constantly engaged but never quite at ease, as McDonagh demands our attention through brutality and dark humor, holding the moments of humanity until they will be most deeply satisfying.
Behind Three Billboards..are performers able to create rich, indelible characters and a bold filmmaker whose vision and instincts have never been more on point.