“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” has garnered a lot of hype already as it has made its debut at many recent film festivals. Can it live up to the critical acclaim? The answer is a resounding YES! Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell star in this dark crime drama and while it’s also classified as a comedy, this is pitch black and drama overrides comedy.
.Mildred’s (McDormand) teenage daughter has been raped and killed with no suspect in sight. Frustrated by the lack of law enforcement’s urgency to find this low-life perpetrator, Mildred sends a very loud and clear message to the local police force via three billboards. This most certainly rekindles interest in the crime, but it has a ripple effect she could never have predicted. Lost inside her own world of grief, the unorthodox tactics bring out a side of her she didn’t know existed.
“Three Billboards” is a raw depiction of a crime no mother (or father) could bear happening to her child. The backward little town provides the perfect backdrop to tell this sordid and harrowing tale filled with unique yet real characters, each well-developed, creating a story that is jaw-droppingly unpredictable.
The story revolves around Mildred, her interactions with Dixon (Rockwell), Chief Willoughby (Harrelson), Red (Caleb Landry Jones), James (Peter Dinklage), and her ex-husband (John Hawkes) who are all memorable characters with vital parts, allowing the gripping thriller to unfold at just the right pace. Taking place in a backward little town, the community is racist and seemingly uneducated, but there are just enough redeeming qualities in a few people, and sometimes unexpected ones, to allow us to have hope. And like all small towns, everyone knows everybody and their business and they have a long, long history together. This history and how the characters intersect creates a unique story that captivates and connects you to each of them.
Dixon (Rockwell) is a deputy officer who should never have been allowed to be a policeman. He’s the poster child of the “bad cop.” While much of what Dixon says and does is simply deplorable, it is his character with whom we emotionally connect. It is also Mildred’s lashing out at this shamed officer that allows her to look within herself to understand her own actions. And Chief Willoughby is much more complicated that we first understand, but we quickly plunge into his issues at hand, gaining insight and compassion. These characters remind us that nothing is ever clear cut, black and white. Life and people are all shades of grey.
McDormand’s performance brings to light every possible emotion a mother could have while coming to terms with guilt and not allowing herself to move forward. She seems to have forgotten her teenaged son (Lucas Hedges) which also has repercussions. Mildred is more than rough around the edges—she’s harsh and at times, cruel, but given her situation, you can forgive much of this. The film is not a comedy, although there are comedic moments, it is a drama delving into the darkest of actions and emotions. McDormand’s foul-mouthed rants are shockingly captivating and offensively creative adding that special charm to the character’s personality. While it’s one of McDormand’s finest performances, Harrelson and Rockwell also shine. The film brings us into small town living…and dying…and all the difficulties in between. Be warned, this is a drama dealing with a tough subject…don’t be mislead by the trailers and think this is a comedy.