Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Clarke Peters, and Samara Weaving
Drive along any busy freeway in the city and you are bound to see advertisement billboards glowing throughout the day. Everything from political commentaries to sporting events to local attorneys get the opportunity to influence and inform their message on your drive through the city.
Travel any stretch of highway in America and billboards can compose a welcome sign of humanity after long stretches of paved asphalt on desolate highways. In director Martin McDonagh’s somber, tragic, and comedic film “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”, billboards play the vessel of emotion for a mother still grieving, still angry.
Three bright red billboards with bold black font proclaim a message to a local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) concerning the unsolved death of a young girl violently murdered in the nearby small town. The person responsible for this message is the young girl’s mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) who is using this advertising tactic to bring awareness, and provoke a response, from the police department.
Mr. McDonagh utilizes these billboards as a device to introduce a complicated story about human interaction, specifically how people react when faced with emotions they don’t want to confront or are afraid to confront. Mr. McDonagh, a playwright turned filmmaker, paints his story with characters easily distinguishable but working towards some kind of transformation. Yet, you can feel that this transformation isn’t going to be so simply achieved. Mildred, beneath the hardened, sharp tongued demeanor is still grieving and affected not only by the death of her daughter but also the life she has lived thus far and by the town she has planted roots in. The director plays with these aspects, molding a narrative that is peaked with sadness and cruelty but also undercut with biting comedy that comes as strong and harsh as the message emblazoned on the billboards. Mr. McDonagh articulates a message concerning the nature of humanity, both the redemptive and condemned qualities, through scenes of violence, within moments of tragedy, and beneath the unexpected laughs.
“Three Billboards” doesn’t work without a committed cast. Leading the charge is an exceptional performance by Frances McDormand. Her portrayal of Mildred is fiery and confident, filled with passion and heartache. Her story is a portrait of what grief has turned her in to, of how it has forever changed her. Some of Ms. McDormand’s best scenes come opposite the town sheriff played by Woody Harrelson, who composes a character struggling with more than a few obstacles in his life. Mr. Harrelson is terrific in the role. The always reliable Sam Rockwell makes an appearance here too, playing the evolving antagonist. Mr. Rockwell excels at this kind of role, making larger than life characters have subtle poignancy.
Mr. McDonagh is a talented filmmaker with a keen eye for drama and a strong sense of humor. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” can be an emotional journey at times, but it’s also undeniably fascinating watching such interesting characters traverse the narrative terrain proposed here.
4.50 out of 5.00