Review by J.T. Johnson
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is the latest dark comedy drama from “Seven Psychopaths” scribe and noted Irish playwright Martin McDonagh. The film opens up with Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) noticing some old billboards and putting up a message for Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). Seven months before the film begins, Mildred’s daughter was raped and murdered and after no results have developed in the case, this is the way that Mildred takes things into her own hands.
The only problem is that there are plenty of people in the town that respect the popular Chief Willoughby. This includes Willoughby’s angry and racist police officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell). When the film opens, we think we know all the players and the roles that they will fill but as the movie progresses, we learn that the “good” characters are just as flawed as the “bad” characters and the bad characters may not be completely without redemptive qualities.
The three titular billboards don’t really have that much involvement with the plot other than to get the story going. The movie is really about the characters themselves, which means that McDonagh better get some reliable cast members. Thankfully, he gets the best of the best and all of the actors deliver.
There are three actors that make the movie and that is McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell. McDormand is an understandably sad woman when we meet her and she also has a lot of anger. She can’t seem to get close to anybody, including her depressed son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) and James (Peter Dinklage), a local man who has a crush on Mildred.
McDormand is a chameleon actress and one of the finest performers in the business today. It should come as no surprise that she can effortlessly handle both Mildred’s tough exterior as well as the sadness that the exterior hides from everyone else. I would not be surprised if McDormand was nominated for the Best Actress award at next year’s Academy Awards ceremony.
Harrelson and Rockwell have a similar challenge with their characters. At first, we are set against them by the story until we eventually learn more about them. Harrelson has it a little easier because we learn something about Willoughby that makes him an instantly more sympathetic character despite his flaws.
Rockwell, on the other hand, has to convince us that there is more to the racist character we meet at first. Thankfully, Rockwell is up to the task even though I will admit that the change he has to go through in the film does feel a little forced in the writing department. I don’t know if everyone will accept his character’s particular arc.
Despite the slightly forced story for Rockwell’s character, though, the movie’s script is pretty solid throughout. There are some great monologues that I thoroughly enjoyed, including one where Mildred pointed out the hypocrisy of a Catholic priest when he tries to convince her to take the billboards down. Let’s just say that since the Catholic Church didn’t really care about some of its priests and what they did to alter boys, they maybe shouldn’t act like they’re the moral authority anymore.
This movie is definitely a dark comedy and that means that it is definitely not for everyone in the mainstream audience. That said, this film contains several strong performances from a fantastic cast with memorable characters and a mostly solid script.