Film Review – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)
As the calender switches to December, more Oscar-hopeful films are expanding out into more theaters, hoping to attract large audiences. Another one of those films is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, an incredibly dark comedy from director Martin McDonagh, the man behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. The following review will be spoiler free.
Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Written By: Martin McDonagh
Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is still grieving the loss of her daughter months after she was brutally raped and killed. Upset that the police has done little to find the killer, she puts up three billboards outside the small town of Ebbing, Missouri to accost them on a grander scale. Her actions polarize the town, causing some to act quite vicious towards her. The police force in town naturally don’t take too kindly to the ads either, souring the dynamic even further.
Clearly, the star of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is Frances McDormand. However, her co-star, Sam Rockwell, is absolutely an actor worth noting. Rockwell chooses different and quirky roles, frequently pairing up with directors more than once since they love his work. In fact, Rockwell has already paired up with Martin McDonagh multiple times in the director’s young career.
However, Rockwell hasn’t exactly “blown up” like you would expect. Those that are very in tune to Hollywood know and love him, but he’s isn’t a household name like Chris Pratt or Leonardo DiCaprio. Calling Rockwell a “cult favorite actor” may be an appropriate term. That being said, he consistently puts out fantastic performances over and over again, earning respect from some of Hollywood’s better directors.
Who knows, maybe his goal isn’t to become a star but rather to challenge himself as an actor. Whatever the case, everyone should come to realize his talents. He’s too good to go unnoticed. Regardless of the film’s quality, hopefully more moviegoers learn Sam Rockwell’s name after Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are Absurdly Good
Luckily, as I just alluded to above, both Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand are stellar, becoming the most fascinating characters on screen with ease.
The obvious star of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is undoubtedly McDormand in the lead role. She’s perfect as an absolute curmudgeon. Her character, Mildred, doesn’t take anything from anybody, operating without a filter at all times. Exclaiming that she is steadfast in her beliefs is quite the understatement as she endures threats of all kinds and still somehow manages to soldier on. But, underneath her tough exterior is a lot of love that doesn’t quite know how to reveal itself. She has very complicated relationships with just about everyone, making for some powerful conflicts throughout the film. Guarded by the tragedy she must now handle, her emotions are held very close to the chest, making them that much more impactful when they come out.
Her interplay with others including Woody Harrelson make for some great interplay. However, the best portion of the movie comes from Sam Rockwell. He starts as a bigot cop that’s pretty hilarious in his unlikeability. Then, the story of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri takes him on a wonderful arc that is by far the most compelling element of the film. By the end of the film, you might just cheer for him. All the while, he spouts profane dialogue like nobody’s business, providing much of the dark comedy that Three Billboards has to offer.
Explores Uncomfortable Themes in Ways that Make Them Even More Uncomfortable
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a very, very gutsy film. Martin McDonagh tackles very uncomfortable themes like police relations and utilizes dialogue in those conversations that make the situations even more uncomfortable. The term “dark comedy” is thrown around a lot these days, but Three Billboards legitimately earns that moniker. You’ll be shocked at the dialogue that passes as humorous. McDormand and Rockwell might need to scrub their mouths with soap once the press tour for the film is all said and done.
A lesser director would have relied predominantly on the shock value of the humor and kept everything on the service, but McDonagh uses the cringeworthy humor to open up a discussion on sacrifice, good deeds, and loss. Behind the foul mouths of these characters are people that have serious problems, and McDonagh captures that idea beautifully. At its core, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is actually a really depressing story about a lot of troubled people.
A Limited Central Arc Causes Three Billboards to Lose its Edge
Then it comes to the arc of Frances McDormand’s character which is, unfortunately, pretty nonexistent. As viewer, it’s rewarding to see the main character undergo some type of change, whether it’s good or bad. You keep waiting for McDormand to either lose it completely or turn over a new leaf. But, as the third act unfolds, you’re left with the notion that she hasn’t really changed at all. At this point you may begin to wonder, what exactly was the point of the entire story? What exactly am I suppose to take away from the film as I leave the theater?
The themes mentioned above become muddled as the credits come over the screen, making you wonder if the ride was worth it at all. Three Billboards is so aggressively politically incorrect that it needed a tight bow on it to wrap up the plot. In this case, the film whiffs, causing some to leave the theater with nothing to hold on to. The film could very well be one of those Oscar contenders that general audiences quickly forget about for that very reason.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri boasts incredible talent led by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. It’s honestly a travesty if they don’t receive nominations. Martin McDonagh wrote some fantastic dialogue that led to some incredible moments of dark comedy, leading to scenes that are equal parts funny and cringeworthy. But, a less than solid character progression of Mildred Hayes causes Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to lose a lot of its steam. It gets a B.
The film crosses the line of dark comedy into mean-spirited insults. However, there’s enough here to make Three Billboards worth watching in preparation for Oscar season.
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