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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Movie Review

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Movie Review

Rating: A- (Great)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Fox Searchlight Pictures

It can be refreshing to see a film that doesn’t follow a specific template and largely avoids clichés and obvious character arcs. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri can definitely be called unpredictable and one might even have trouble classifying it as director/writer Martin McDonagh mixes dark humour with a serious storyline. McDonagh doesn’t sugarcoat anyone as he depicts the small town reaction to a teenage girl’s rape and murder. Nobody is a perfect egg as they each have their own demons and immoral behaviour. Yet McDonagh still seems to hold some hope, rather than merely clouding Three Billboards under a morose layer of cynicism.

What Three Billboards does remarkably well is test our own moral compass. By all accounts, Frances McDormand’s Mildred would be considered the “hero”, but some of her actions and remarks don’t seem like the best way to handle this situation. McDonagh’s sharp screenplay and McDormand’s fierce performance carefully showcase the multiplicity of Mildred’s personality. She’s definitely assertive and blunt in her declarations, but the occasional emotion and even regretful comments also slip through. McDonagh properly divides time between the other characters, giving us their point-of-view. With the exception of Mildred’s ex-husband and a mysterious visitor in town, everyone is written with both good and bad qualities.

McDonagh doesn’t even ask the audience to sympathise with everyone. Sam Rockwell’s Dixon is a policeman with terrible tendencies and behavioral problems, who eventually shows a couple of positive traits. Yet McDonagh doesn’t try and force the audience to change their minds about him. Rockwell’s performance is similarly smarmy and vicious, but he also has his quiet reflective scenes. Mildred’s son, as played by Lucas Hedges, could have been the clichéd offspring who starts reprimanding his mother for petty reasons. However, his position during this entire situation is completely understandable and Hedges solidly shows the mix of emotions he’s going through.

McDonagh peppers the screenplay with dark comedy that lands most of the time. He is able to walk that line between the serious subject matter and the more outlandish dialogue. There’s a bite to the words with the script managing to handle the more politically incorrect material without feeling too crass. The humour clicks, because McDonagh chooses the proper moments to create that jolt and it never feels jarring as we see Mildred deal with the other townsfolk and her own moral questions. A perfect comic counterpart for Mildred is Caleb Landry Jones as the proprietor of the billboard advertising firm. He handles her requests with the right reaction and his own story arc is explored deeper than one might expect.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is harsh in its tone, but not in a way that keeps the audience at a distance. Martin McDonagh allows us to get to know each of the townsfolk and by the end of the film, we feel like we’ve gotten to know them. The goal of finding the girl’s rapist and killer is important through the entire film, but everyone’s motivations are unique and not entirely black or white. Every single character’s moralities are out of whack and heavily flawed, which only makes them more human and not merely a bunch of personalities played by a talented ensemble of actors. This is a film that definitely stays on one’s mind many days and possibly months after the initial viewing.


Stefan Ellison

Stefan Ellison