There are ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ that are the key to calling out a murderer who has alluded police. Writer and Director Martin Mcdonagh’s newest black comedy-drama takes place in the heartland of America. After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is not only exacerbated, but taken to new levels of heightened tension between both sides. ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ is rated R for violence, adult language throughout, and some sexual references.
Martin Mcdonagh has always been one of my favorite directors because of his humanistic approach to dialogue within awkward situations that offers an abstraction of emotional releases. Martin always manages to get funny and sometimes appalling responses out of these darkly intense situations, so a film like ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Misouri’ shouldn’t be a difficult sell by proxy. Without question, this is Mcdonagh’s single best film to date, and one that I feel will serve as a valuable piece of conversation stimulation that will aggressively divide two sides on the many moral crossroads that envelope the themes within this picture. Inside are bouts with racism, sexism, media manipulation, and of course murder. These devastating issues have always been cancers to our society, but especially prevalent in today’s day and age where it feels like we (similar to the town of Ebbing) are enduring our own moral trial in making so many of these wrongs right within the structure of our own future. Mcdonagh knows this and crafts a movie that feels like our wildest fantasies of grievance coming true in the hands of one emotionally scarred woman who is lashing out against the very system that failed her and cost her arguably the greatest single thing about her life; her daughter.
Behind the wheel of that wrecking ball is the one woman tour de force performance of Mcdormand that silences any doubt that 2017 is her year. As Mildred Hayes, Mcdormand brings to life the sadness, anger, rebellion, and release that is sure to chill anyone who has ever lost someone valuable in their lives, bringing with it a kind of small town superhero who just keeps coming at her opposition. Mcdormand commands the screen because each and every time she appears, she feels like a hurricane that is coming to blow through anything and anyone that gets in her way, and she is simply as good as it gets in a year that features some gritty leading lady performances that are destined to shine. Besides Mcdormand, there are also captivating performances by Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, and Mcdonagh favorite Sam Rockwell like you’ve never seen him. Mcdormand gets a shot at every one of them, but it’s her chemistry with Rockwell that gives the film its greatest example of casualties involved in the face of war. Rockwell’s character goes through a well taut transformation that feels genuinely earned, and his assertion into the movie articulately depicts the truest cancer of ignorance that is slowly eating away at this town of complacency.
The setting for the film feels like a character in itself, demanding the most of small town problems and ideals that appropriately channel the vast personalities in culture. There is a brief feeling of ‘Fargo’ ambiance in the air, echoing the beat of the singular drum that the townspeople alone vibe to, and one that feels so distant from the rest of us in existence. Ebbing feels like a place where anything is possible. A virtual soap opera of a town that caters to the kind of slow news days that CNN is just itching to delve into. There’s an almost engulfing cloud of intimidation by the police department’s grip on this invasive community, but that all is tested like never before when Mildred decides to invest everything she has into exposing their incompetence. What I find so credible is that while this film wasn’t actually shot in Missouri, the doubling from Sylva, North Carolina more than feeds into the small town characteristics that bring to life the fictional town fluently and leave nothing to be desired in terms of bridging the gap of production synching.
In terms of the story, there’s plenty from Mcdonagh as a screenwriter that lends itself accordingly to keeping the pacing of this film moving smoothly. Most notably, the film never loses its sense of humor despite the adult themes that take over the second half of the movie and up the stakes with unnerving uncertainty from the community whole. There are some patches where the script hits some dull spots, but just when you think it is beginning to lose steam, Mcdonagh always seems to throw a wrench into the film that constantly keeps the audience guessing, and I can’s say that ever for a moment that it felt choreographed with where I felt the story was heading. That, in addition to this crumbling family in scenes of the past and present, and I felt like Mcdonagh is a writer who definitely hasn’t lost his stride, valuing the importance of famous last words and what effects that they might have on future bearings. Little moments hold the biggest consequences, and it’s those instances when the truth shines for better or worse.
Up to this point, ‘Three Billboards’ was easily one of my favorite films of 2017, but then the dark cloud of arguably one of my most disappointing endings in recent memory took place and soured my final grade. I didn’t hate the film’s ending, and certainly understand the approach to “anger begets more anger”, but I feel like the ending is too speculative and not satisfying enough in terms of answers to the film’s core mystery. This left me with more questions than answers coming out of the film, and one that I wish would’ve continued at least for ten more minutes, not necessarily for therapeutic release, but rather for emphasis in conclusion from an ending that just kind of trails off. For my theater, the final shot omitted so much air of suspense held in by the audience who were ready to explode to that point, but it just ends on a final direction that has been cemented for the final five minutes of the film, leading us ready for the crushing blow of disappointment that this film couldn’t run away from after being written into a corner. You understand from a character perspective the purpose in this journey, but the tank of consistency runs on empty during the film’s finale, giving up on itself before we ever have a chance to.
THE VERDICT – ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ stands tall under the lights because of a gut-wrenching performance by Mcdormand, as well as the endless puppeteering by Mcdonagh’s empathetic approach to everything that is right and wrong with the world. Though the ending is riddled with a lack of impact for the many satisfying directions of conclusion that this film could’ve given us, the previous 9/10’s blew me away with complexity towards cunning emotional depositions that prove this film is too big for just one respective genre. There’s truth in advertising, and this billboard says poetically profound.