Director Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges) has created another compelling film with Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017). He has the ability to juggle tones in his movies masterfully. This film initially seems to be extremely negative but manages to shift to one that left me with a feeling of hope. It’s a film that I initially liked; but the more I’ve dwelled on it, I’ve begun to love it.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is another great entry by Martin McDonagh
Mildred (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards on an old back road to call attention to the fact that her daughter’s rapist and the murderer has still not been caught. She calls out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) specifically, angering most of the town. The fact that he is dying of cancer only strengthens the resolve of the community that her billboard is unfair and distasteful, but her desire for justice is too strong for her to be scared off from making her point.
The police force isn’t loved by all, especially since they allowed Dixon (Sam Rockwell) to continue working despite allegedly torturing a black man in custody. The film discusses race issues, a violent rape and murder, cancer, and other injustices so it’s probably hard to believe that there is a hopeful quality about it. Considering the excessive amounts of bad language from all parties seamlessly blended with McDonagh’s dark humor, the hopelessness of the situation the characters are in can seem endless…yet there is a point in the film where light breaks through the darkness, and it does so in a way that felt truly inspiring.
While much can be credited to McDonagh’s writing and direction, a weak cast would not have been able to pull off the complex characters in the film. Mildred at one point is locked in a verbal battle with Willoughby until a moment of weakness shocks both of them into reality. She doesn’t use his weakness to attack, but rather sets aside their differences and seeks out help. A behavior he then returns by overlooking an action that could easily have landed her in jail. Dixon is by far the most surprising character, and Rockwell’s performance makes it so wonderful that despite some of his despicable early behaviors, a sign of a good man emerges. Coached by Willoughby, he proves to be a character that inspires the most hope that humans can change.
This film is definitely complex and deserves to be explored in more detail. However, it’s also extremely enjoyable as long as vulgarity and dark humor don’t offend. It’s more grounded than McDonagh’s other two films in many ways, but still has his touch of comedy. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri earns the Must See rating.