"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" Review
Anger has been a problem America has been dealing with the last couple of years. Whether it be political or social, everyone has felt angry about the current state of our nation. Here to shed more light on that topic is Martin McDonagh, writer, and director of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. McDonagh uses his Irish background and dark comedy writing skills to make a film that is both deadly serious and brutally funny. You may find yourself both laughing and crying in this tale of revenge and forgiveness.
Just as you would expect, the film is set in the small town of Ebbing, Missouri. About a year ago, teenager Angela Hayes was raped and murdered. Her case has remained unsolved, much to the dismay of her mother, Mildred (Frances McDormand). Since none of her previous attempts have worked, Mildred decides the best way to call out the police and express her anger is to rent three billboards outside of town (get the title now?). This action quickly captures the attention of the beloved local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). What starts out as a small squabble begins to explode into more violent and personal acts between Mildred and the rest of the town. Along for the ride as support are Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, and Caleb Landry Jones.
McDonagh’s film boasts a mega-talented cast that is able to play both sides of the duality between good and evil. He gives all his characters range and memorable traits to keep them interesting to watch. He also perfectly balances the comedy and drama elements within his characters as well. We get to see their rage, but also their compassion. It’s a fitting balance for a subject that doesn’t have clear areas of right and wrong.
The key part of McDonagh’s script is how relatable it is to present day America. The anger each character has are like a symbol for each of us as we battle with the injustices going on in the real world. McDonagh doesn’t give us an answer for how to cure our rage but gives us a story so we can see how violence makes everything worse.
Surprisingly, one of the only weak parts of the film is McDonagh’s script. It’s a good script, but it also has some very clear problems throughout. One of those is some on-the-nose dialogue that feels out of place. He also lets the film get too out of hand and over the top by the end. Events escalate and occur almost too quickly and with little support to warrant their excessiveness.
Cinematographer Ben Davis does a fine job working his camera through the small town of Ebbing. He gives us a city tour while also highlighting the characters that inhabit it. One expert sequence he pulls off is a continuous shot of Sam Rockwell’s character breaking down a glass door, walking upstairs into an office, throwing a guy out the window, and then leaving the office while breaking another glass door.
This film and The Shape of Water are in a tight race for the honor of being the best cast of 2017. Frances McDormand delivers an awards capturing performance as a tough mother that has been forced to go to extremes just so she can get the answers she deserves. It’s her best role since Fargo and it perfectly plays to her strengths as an actress. She can mix vengeance, snarkiness, and compassion all in the same scene. It’s a role only she could play.
Sam Rockwell seriously steps us his game to deliver an amazing supporting performance as Dixon, the understudy to Willoughby. Dixon is not like most police officers, he’s racist, misogynistic, and just plain mean. Rockwell masterfully blends his comedic skills with intense drama to make his character complex and compelling. He’s largely been seen as “that” guy in most films, but after this film, people will know and appreciate the talents of Sam Rockwell.
Woody Harrelson gives us his usual country charm with his character Willoughby. It’s a character we’ve seen him play before, but it’s a character he knows how to play.
Rounding out the excellent supporting cast is Caleb Landry Jones, who is enjoying a marvelous 2017, and Lucas Hedges, who is also having a really good year. They both do well and aren’t completely overshadowed by the leads in their limited roles.
After watching the film, the main idea that makes this film work is the balance. Everybody uses it very well, whether it be McDonagh with his pretty good script or the actors with their masterful performances. As both an entertaining ride and eye-opening experience, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the better films to come out this year.