Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is a challenging and difficult to describe film. Writer and director Martin McDonagh crafts a unique tone, injecting his trademark brand of dark humor into the story. The resulting creation results in an interesting blend of moods, which should certainly inspire discussion as award season builds.
The film follows the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand). Disillusioned and disenfranchised after the rape and murder of her daughter, she rents three billboards on her rural street. Her critical message against the local police chief (Woody Harrelson) begins a chain of events which forever changes their small town.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes from writer and director Martin McDonagh. The talented creator is perhaps best known to audiences for his work on films like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.
Frances McDormand is by far and away the star of the film. The talented and award winning actress absolutely kills it with a layered and grounded portrayal of a mother struggling to deal with her daughter’s death. The character is enormously complex, and McDormand shines. Mildred is feisty, and McDormand easily carries the dark humor which is a hallmark of McDonagh’s work. The tone of this movie is unique to the say the least. Furthermore, a character as challenging as Mildred requires an actress with the depth and complexity that McDormand brings to each of her parts. As such, the challenging role, and the layers of her performance should see McDormand once again a front runner as awards season approaches.
As a character, Mildred leaps out as a woman that we need on screen. In a year that continues to see complex and developed female characters, Mildred is yet another to add to the growing list. McDormand brings a fierce strength to McDonaugh’s writing. Despite everything going on around her, it’s refreshing to see Mildred living for herself and seeming completely secure in who she is. She struggles with an abusive ex-husband (John Hawkes) (and his 19 year old girlfriend), and challenging children (Lucas Hedges). But through all this, she maintains a clear vision and sense of agency.
However, the film also brings together an amazingly talented ensemble to support McDormand. McDonagh veteran Sam Rockwell is a standout in a role which should net him some nominations. Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage and Lucas Hedges round out the talented group. The cast brings their A-game to the incredibly complex script, seemingly thriving in the complicated feature. Each performer brings multiple laugh out loud moments, standing out in what would otherwise be a very dark film.
While the film’s script is witty and well paced, the treatment of a certain subject is relatively tone deaf. The dialogue repeatedly mentions race, especially the ongoing political hot-button issue of race and law enforcement. While the movie is not one to pull punches, the film merely turns the serious issue into a fleeting source of humor. Are there some missed opportunities here?
Race stands as a small subplot in the film. On the whole, the cast is predominantly white and race only enters the conversation as a set-up for jokes at the expense of the city police force. The subject only takes a slight turn when the new Chief of Police (Clarke Peters) arrives in town. The man is smart, competent and seems to bring a new sense of justice to the police force. However, he’s also African American. This is immediately uncomfortable for the established police force veterans. The scenes play for humor as the officers are immediately dismissive of their new boss, assuming he couldn’t really be the new chief. As a result, the story dips into a racially tinged subplot. However, the construction of the narrative results in the subject matter merely being a source of laughter for the audience and very little else.
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is an incredibly solid film. The strength of the talented ensemble will take the movie far. As such, the feature will likely be a contender come awards season. While, the story is not without its troubles, fans of writer and director Martin McDonagh should definitely check out this movie, as well as fans of filmmakers like the Coen Brothers.
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is now playing at theaters around the country.