Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Also known as: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (stylized on screen)
Release Date: September 4th, 2017 (Venice Film Festival)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Music by: Carter Burwell
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek, Sandy Martin, Brendan Sexton III

Blueprint Pictures, Film4 Productions, Cutting Edge Group, Fox Searchlight Pictures, 115 Minutes

Review:

“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory, and ya can’t say, ‘Fuck’ ‘Piss’ or ‘Cunt’. That right?” – Mildred Hayes

I’ve been hitting the theater, trying to catch up on some of the indie films I’ve been missing. Luckily, I have a lot of days off to use between now and the end of the year, so playing catch up should be fairly easy now that Cinespiria has gotten through Darktober and Noirvember and there isn’t a theme for the month of December.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a really nice surprise. While I did expect to enjoy it, it wasn’t as straightforward and cookie cutter as I anticipated. But I probably should have known better with Martin McDonagh in the director’s chair, as In Bruges and Seven Psycopaths weren’t films that one could label predictable.

This picture has a magnificently solid cast but so did Seven Psychopaths and McDonagh has shown that he’s fully capable of managing an ensemble. Although, while this is an ensemble piece and everyone is well beyond satisfactory, Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is center stage in just about every scene and she really put the weight of this picture on her back and succeeded, giving us another masterful performance. She is a tough cookie and she never relents in her quest to find justice for her raped and murdered daughter.

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell both do fine in this film, as well. Both men play cops and, at first, based off of how the story starts, you aren’t really a fan of either man. Harrelson’s Sheriff Willoughby wins you over fairly quickly, as you sympathize with his illness and the toughness of his job and a system that can’t always catch the bad guy. Rockwell’s Dixon is incredibly unlikable for two-thirds of the film but there is a real turning point where the angry boy with a badge becomes a man. Both cop characters, like all the characters can’t not be affected by the events of the story. People change and this is a film about character evolution and redemption, just as much as it is about justice or lack thereof.

This is the second film where I’ve seen Caleb Landry Jones play a nice and decent character, a departure from the psychos he played in Get Out and the revival of Twin Peaks. This guy has come along way since I first noticed him in X-Men: First Class and he’s really carving out a nice career for himself with a good amount of diversity in his roles. I hope to see a lot more from him in the future.

We also get to see character actors John Hawkes and Sandy Martin and both shine in their small but influential roles. Clarke Peters shows up and I always get excited when I see him, as he was one of my favorites in the underappreciated HBO show Treme. Another HBO alum, Peter Dinklage of Game of Thrones, plays a nice and sweet character in this. Brendan Sexton III, probably most remembered as the young shoplifting shithead in Empire Records and as a bully in Welcome to the Dollhouse, plays a character not too dissimilar from his earliest roles.

Three Billboards is a film that carries a lot of emotional weight and unfortunately exists in our sad reality where sometimes the worst people get away with deplorable acts. The film ends with two of the characters having to make a grave choice but we do not get to see what they decide to do. Like these characters, you want justice for Mildred’s daughter but you also have to ask yourself where the line is drawn while understanding that nothing will bring her back.

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