Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Genre: Crime Drama Running Time: 1 hr. 55 min.

Release Date: November 10th, 2017 MPAA Rating: R

Director: Martin McDonagh Actors: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Amanda Warren, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Samara Weaving, Clarke Peters




n the quaint midwestern town of Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has finally had enough of the apparent incompetency of the local police, led by William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). Several months have passed since her daughter’s murder, and with no new leads or suspects, Mildred decides to send a message that will spur law enforcement into action. Renting three billboards just outside city limits, the implacable mother prints an incendiary challenge aimed directly at Willoughby. When a news station runs a piece on Mildred’s brazen act, all of Ebbing becomes aware of the escalating turmoil between the emboldened matriarch and the police, forcing the citizens to take a side.

It’s immediately music driven, with country tunes, folksy operatic singing, and soft rock, among other styles, initiating every scene. The musical components change so frequently, it’s as if each role carries a personal theme to follow them around; this insistence on music goes so far as to have a character hum to himself as an introduction. And it works magnificently, as elements of the plot shift around in seriousness, from pure comedy to the tension of confronting opposition, each commanded by cues for tone and atmosphere and emotions.

It’s by no accident that careful distinctions are designated through technical embellishments, as this film is only ostensibly about a murder and the woman yearning to find closure. At its heart, it’s about the characters themselves, their strained interactions in the face of an unsolved mystery, and the far-reaching consequences of attempting to impel a move and, by extension, hasty opinions. Inaction inspires desperation, which in turn proves to be a powerful tool. Welcomingly, the citizens don’t harbor a tolerance for little injustices, instead regularly provoking and standing up to the corruptions of small town law enforcement; their general sense of defiance against unfairness is entirely unexpected.

“Hate never solved nothing.” The sheriff is a major piece of this character study, imparting words of wisdom even after his role departs. He possesses an uncommon awareness of his faults and vulnerabilities, which complements Mildred’s uncompromising stubbornness – or a sensationally strong will, perfectly depicted by McDormand (in yet another knockout performance). Thanks to writer/director Martin McDonagh’s penetrating script, these personas are able to yield laugh-out-loud humor right alongside brutal honesty and bitter hatred. Here, heartbreak goes hand in hand with hostility.

But perhaps what is most appealing about all of the various players is their averageness. None are particularly intelligent or skilled; this is an assemblage of unexceptional people, who are crafted from broad stereotypes (Sam Rockwell as officer Dixon is the best of these dullards). But the details divulged and the humanness exhibited give each one a complexity that builds them into unforgettable, singular characters. Whether they’re focusing on wordplay, criticizing faith, accepting mortality, embracing tragedies, repairing relationships, or pushing back against reputations, the character development always takes precedence – as if the story itself is merely a series of vignettes to highlight the underlying qualities of each participant.

As it alternates between comical encounters and severe face-offs, a chain reaction starts to consume all of the background roles, dragging them into anticipated involvements or completely unforeseen coincidences – though both types of scenarios maintain a realism, despite the dark humor of a perverted sense of justice or the strength of impetuosity. McDonagh’s tales tend to encourage audiences to ponder the knottiness of life, and the little things that shape individuals, particularly when their actions remain grounded and believable. No one is larger-than-life here, even as interactions grow more outrageous as he observes and offers commentary on anger, expectations, and resolutions. In its examinations of simple folks struggling to find purpose and conserve order in their lives, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” becomes emotional, impactful, hilarious, riveting, and, most importantly, thoroughly entertaining.

– The Massie Twins

  • 9/10