Release Date: November 10, 2017 (Limited)
Director: Martin McDonagh
MPAA Rating: R
Runtime: 115 Minutes
It’s a rare film that so deftly balances dark humor with tragic sorrow, character development with growth, throw-down fights with tender exchanges, and shock and horror with full-on belly laughs. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), is one such film.
The story centers around Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a grieving parent who lost her only daughter to a horrific crime. Infuriated with local law enforcement’s apparent failure to find her daughter’s killer, she decides to purchase three billboards near her home in order to draw attention to the perceived negligence.
As expected, this riles up the town’s police chief (Woody Harrelson), who is named explicitly on one of the billboards; his devoted deputy (Sam Rockwell); and his wife (Abbie Cornish). McDormand and In Bruges alums Harrelson, Rockwell and Cornish all give tremendous performances, and supporting cast mates Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, Sandy Martin and Zeljko Ivanek prove beyond a doubt that there are no small parts.
It’s these stunning performances, along with top-notch writing and directing, that make Three Billboards one of the year’s most gripping flicks. McDormand expertly portrays both an underdog and an anti-heroine, and you find yourself rooting for her no matter what awful thing she has done and pitying her despite her tough-as-nails exterior. Rockwell, too, is at the top of his game, showing off his incredible range in a part that, in the hands of a lesser actor, might have been nothing more than an irredeemable, half-wit villain.
Instead what we’re gifted with is a master class in filmmaking – a tragic tale that is at the same time beautifully uplifting. The audience is reminded every step of the way that, despite extreme emotions and fiery interactions, these are still small-town folk. These people are each other’s neighbors, and their actions have consequences.
Small acts of kindness are utterly moving. The preserving of a case file; sharing an orange juice; a sudden bloody cough, quickly forgiven; and an invitation for a road trip are momentous. Compared to its single-note, predictable and surface-level contemporaries, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a moving masterpiece of complex emotive cinema.