With seven staggering Academy Award nominations, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a movie to keep an eye on, and is the newest film from English writer/director Martin McDonagh. It is an unsentimental yet moving drama that recently won the People’s Choice Award at the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival.
Three Billboards tells the story of a grieving mother, Mildred Hayes, who is inconsolable after the brutal murder of her daughter, Angela. Mildred is furious at the local law enforcement in her home town of Ebbing, Missouri, because they failed to solve her daughter’s murder in the seven months since it occurred. Seeking justice, Mildred deliberately shines a light on the sheriff’s incompetence when she puts up provocative messages on three giant billboards on a dirt road outside Ebbing. Her messages read: “Raped while dying”, “Still no arrests”, and finally “How come, Chief Willoughby?”
Mildred’s actions set off a chain of events as local law enforcement attempt to subdue her, which only serves to fuel her exasperation in her attempts to seek justice.
Mildred is played by the brilliant Frances McDormand, who you may be familiar with as pregnant police chief Marge Gunderson in 1996’s crime classic film Fargo. McDormand’s portrays Mildred as someone who is worthy of our sympathy, and we cheer her on as she attempts to get justice for her daughter and find a sense of closure. However, Mildred also crosses the line, and her questionable tactics hurt innocent people in her fight to get what she wants.
There are great performances from the supporting cast as well.
The role of the well-meaning and naïve Chief Willoughby is played by Woody Harrelson, who has had many notable roles including The People vs. Larry Flynt, Natural Born Killers, and The Hunger Games saga. Sam Rockwell shines in his portrayal of racist police officer Dixon; whose offensive behavior includes torturing a black man in custody, threatening random people, and beating an innocent man senseless before throwing him out of a window.
In addition to great performances, Three Billboards shows the complex nature of human relationships and the impact that we all have on each other.
Mildred, Dixon, and Willoughby each try to get their own sense of closure as they battle their own demons, which often affects those around them negatively. These characters are morally imperfect, each l committing harmful acts that they will come to regret. We feel for them as they are dealing with their issues in the only way they know how. In a world that is indifferent to their suffering, one cannot help but sympathize.
Not all is darkness however, as this film’s heavy subject matter is combined with some beautiful landscapes to create some eye-catching visuals, courtesy of British cinematographer Ben Davis.
The slow-moving pace of Three Billboards may not appeal to everyone, as the overly serious nature and unsentimental storytelling may make it uncomfortable viewing at times. Yet, despite its dark tones, Three Billboards is surprisingly moving as each of the characters finds some redemption in their own unique way.
Verdict: Everybody hurts. A slow-moving character driven drama, that manages to captivate through its honest depictions of human nature. Three Billboards is not to be missed as it reflects the harsh realities of our present through the guise of great cinematography.