Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Movie Review
The ability to write and perform interesting and sympathetic characters might be the single most difficult and important task when creating a story. It’s a talent that should not go unnoticed and a skill that writer/director Martin McDonagh seems to do with ease when writing dark comedic dramas. In 2006, he won Best Short Live Action Film at the Academy Awards for SIX SHOOTER. In 2008, he was nominated for a Best Original Screenplay for IN BRUGES. In 2012, he had another dark comedic critical success in SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS. I have no doubt that McDonagh’s most recent film, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI will be a deservedly, strong contender in virtually every category come award season.
Driving down a less-traveled road near her home in Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred (Frances McDormand) pulls over and stares at three, worn down, unused billboards. She quickly requests to commission all three for the year with a down payment for the first month. But Mildred isn’t using the billboards to advertise some local business. Mildred uses the signs to send a controversial message directly to the town’s respected Police Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). Months earlier, Mildred’s teenage daughter was brutally raped and murdered. Without a culprit or even current leads or suspects, Mildred not only wants justice but answers as to why more isn’t being done. The small town is divided by the controversy with the hot-headed, second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), willing to enforce violent methods to put a stop to Mildred’s bold move.
Clearly this is a heavy topic with extremely dark details and deeply flawed characters. However, McDonagh has done the nearly impossible task by making a town full of failing characters surrounding the serious tragedy completely fascinating, sympathetic and extremely funny. The comparison to the Coen Brothers is inevitable. More specifically, the comparison to 1996’s Oscar nominated FARGO (also starring McDormand) might be the best example to understand what what kind of film one will be getting into with THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.
Establishing setting is another key component in storytelling and Ebbing is alive with personality. The characters are drenched in believable absurdity, either through horrific or lovingly supportive actions. The cinematography by Ben Davis, the music by Carter Burwell, the art direction by Jesse Rosenthal, the production design by Inbal Weinberg, and the editing by Jon Gregory all come together to create a rich environment for this wonderful character study of disturbing events to unfold.
The other piece to this particularly compelling puzzle of creating such amazing character is through the performance. The entire cast which includes Lucas Hedges (MANCHESTER BY THE SEA), Caleb Landry Jones (GET OUT), Abbie Cornish (GEOSTORM), John Hawkes (EVEREST), and Peter Dinklage (GAME OF THRONES) should be commended. Woody Harrelson has proven time and time again of his natural charisma and talent and delivers a light, outwardly level-headed ease among so many characters bubbling with emotions. Sam Rockwell manages to create warmth and understanding in a troubled and mostly despicable character. Frances McDormand commands the screen with a powerful yet understated anger and sadness. All these actors seem to understand the humor, finding all the perfect ironic notes yet staying completely honest to their character among the chaos. The film is a smart observational character study on the unfulfilling actions we choose during tragedy.
Engaging on every level, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is somehow bleak yet funny, creating some of the most captivating characters in recent memory. On the other hand, watching a film like THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI just points out how poorly constructed nearly every other movie is that we watch on a regular basis.