Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

  • Time: 115 min
  • Genre: Comedy | Crime | Drama
  • Director: Martin McDonagh
  • Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a darkly comic drama from Academy Award winner Martin McDonagh (In Bruges). After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Academy Award winner Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.


  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (RATING: ☆☆☆☆☆ out of 5 stars)  
    GRADE: A-    


    IN BRIEF:  Three of the year’s best performances in one of the year’s best films.

    SYNOPSIS: A grieving mother angers a town in order to seek justice for her daughter’s unsolved murder.

    RUNNING TIME: 1 hr., 55 mins.

    JIM’S REVIEW: When one glances at Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), it is hard to ever imagine if this woman ever danced, or smiled, or loved someone. One wonders if she ever was an innocent child growing up. Her constant scowl, disdaining look, and furrowed brow, are all evident from a lifetime of disappointments which show us that here is a most unhappy person.

    But her appearance tells a deeper story… a tragic tale that gives her permission to be filled with hopelessness and a justifiable reason for her rage. Seven months ago, her daughter was raped and savagely murdered and her killer still remains at large. Justice has not been served and now she must intervene in Martin McDonagh’s dark comedy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Leasing a trio of outdoor displays, she will force local law enforcement into solving her daughter’s killing by announcing their ineptitude and shaming the town in the process as the situation becomes even more violent as the investigation spins out of control. The film is superb.

    Just as the morning fog rolls in like a shroud of ominous foreboding, so does a nagging sense of dread and melancholia which seems to hang onto its town and its inhabitants. Mr. McDonagh serves as director and screenwriter and has created a work of art. He deftly directs his own screenplay with masterful results, blending humor and dramatic tension seamlessly.

    The director / screenwriter’s unique and slightly quirky vision fills his film with poetic images (a teddybear slightly submerged by a riverbank, a deserted set of red swings gently moving in the breeze, a box turtle crawling over a sleeping woman, three disintegrated billboard alongside an empty road). His dialog is hauntingly real and filled with confrontational conversations and barbed words. There are scenes of unexpected poignancy (one between Ms. M. and a passing deer near those controversial billboards and another involving a conversation between pink bunny slippers that are heartbreaking) Each and every character, from major to minor, are fully drawn and react with complete honesty and quiet (and sometimes loud) rage.

    The casting is flawless. Frances McDormand is a commanding presence and makes an indelible impression as a woman on the verge. Overcome with bitterness and grief, she dominates this film with a no-holds-bar persona. The actress plays this unlikable but passionate character with a vengance, literally speaking. She is simply astonishing. Her portrayal is a master class in acting. Even when not ranting against the powers that be or fighting to be simply be heard, Mildred’s silent pauses and side glances fill in all of the nuances of her character’s emotional breakdown to chilling effects. (If there is any justice, onscreen or off, the Oscar is waiting for her!)

    As Mildred’s moving targets are Woody Harrelson who brings a nuanced portrayal as William Willoughby, the chief of police and Sam Rockwell plays his dim-witted, loyal, and anger-ridden deputy, Officer Dixon. Mr. Harrelson plays the film’s most centered character in a town filled with hate and bigotry and the actor conveys a good man dying of cancer, frustrated by life’s limitations and caught in a free fall of emotions. Mr. Rockwell takes his complicated character into areas of comedy and drama that defy description. It is a masterful performance as well as we watch his character grow from a bigoted mama’s boy into a man finally questioning his own self-worth. (Another possible award winning performance in a film filled with great acting?)

    Adding even more depth to the complex plotting are Lucas Hedge as Mildred’s forgotten and emotionally trampled son, Robbie and John Hawkes as her abusive ex-husband. Only Peter Dinklage’s character is a tad sketchy and in need of more screen time. He becomes her possible love interest…if Mildred could possibly love anyone. Providing fine support in minor but pivotal roles are Zeljko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Sandy Martin, Clarke Peters, and Samara Weaving.

    Production values are high. Beautifully lensed by cinematographer Ben Davis, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. uses a variety of musical genres, from opera and pop standards to twangy country tunes, which set that perfect tone in Carter Burwell’s atmospheric score. Both words and image create a shattering look at grief that is unmistakably heart-wrenching.

    Yes, there are some illogical plot twists and sudden far-fetched acts of violence that never have any legal repercussion on the culprits in this community of law and disorder. But the script has such a lyrical and moving way of expressing the everyday sadness and routine of life that is so commonplace in many rural towns. The film successfully captures that aimlessness and desperation that occurs in ordinary life everywhere.

    Some moviegoers also may not be satisfied with the film’s conclusion either. But I was transfixed throughout this film. It is hard to imagine another film this year that is so well conceived and executed in its narrative storytelling, sensitive direction, and its glorious acting.

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the year’s best.

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  • Filmed in North Carolina but taking place in Missouri (Missouri has mountains too), The Show Me State still “shows off” in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (my latest review).

    “Billboards” stings like a mother and is probably the most violent, in-your-face black comedy since 2000’s Nurse Betty. In “Betty”, Chris Rock rips the scalp off some schlepped car salesman. In “Billboards”, Frances McDormand mutilates the finger of her dentist with his own drill. Restraint? Uh, I don’t think so.

    What “Billboards” has is shock value direction by Martin McDonagh, sharp, coarse writing, characters with nasty dispositions, and strong acting by everyone involved. What this film doesn’t have is a true resolve, or a sense of relevance, or I guess, an actual ending. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a flick that sort of sits there. It’s cinematically drunk on style, timed savagery, and derisive dialogue deliveries. I wanted to recommended it but alas, I just couldn’t.

    The storytelling in “Billboards” is one of the straightforward and unmissable variety. It’s about the perturbed Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand). Mildred’s daughter Angela, was raped and murdered seven months ago. Mad at the police for not following through with the investigation, Hayes rents three billboards outside her hometown (the fictional Ebbing, Missouri). These billboards signify her infused anger and frustration with said police. One of them reads, “Raped while dying”. Another one reads, “And still no arrests”. Mildred’s uncouth behavior ticks off certain townspeople along with Ebbing’s dying Sheriff (Bill Willoughby played by Woody Harrelson).

    Anyway, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has scenes of arson and clips of subtle, racial insinuations. It also features a tracking shot in which a cop beats an ad agency worker and then throws him out of a window. Personas in “Billboards” threaten each other, blood flows freely, and every Mayberry- like transplant seems to collide through a set of almost implausible coincidences (Ebbing is a small place I guess).

    As far as blackened satires go, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri makes you laugh one minute and then makes you squirm the next. It’s startlingly entertaining but feels incomplete and irreproachably partial (even at a running time of 115 minutes). My rating: 2 and a half stars.

    Rating: 2.5 out of 4 stars

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  • “Raped While Dying.” “And Still No Arrests.” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” These are the words on the three billboards that stand outside Ebbing, Missouri, words that unsurprisingly send the townspeople into quite the tailspin in writer-director Martin McDonagh’s characteristically wickedly funny but more warmhearted and compassionate new film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

    The billboards have been rented out by one Mildred Hayes, a volcano of rage and vulnerability brought to scorching life by Frances McDormand. It’s been seven months since Mildred’s teenage daughter, Angela, was found dead, having been set on fire after being sexually assaulted, and the local police appear to have lost the urgency to solve the case. Perhaps they’re “too busy torturing black folks” to solve her daughter’s murder, she charges, an accusation which does not sit well with Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson at his most endearingly folksy), who insists they don’t have any evidence, circumstantial or otherwise, to track down the culprit and who believes the billboards to be an unfair attack on his character.

    The whole of the town agrees – Willoughby is beloved and he’s dying of cancer to boot, a fact of which Mildred was well aware when she threw down the gauntlet. “Everyone is with you about Angela,” Father Montgomery (Nick Searcy) says, “nobody is with you about this.” The priest won’t be the last person to try and fail to change Mildred’s mind. She is resolved to see this through despite the verbally and physically abusive reaction of her ex-husband (John Hawkes), who is now involved with a 19-year-old, and the frustration of her son (Lucas Hedges), who just wants to move on with his life.

    One of the remarkable things about McDonagh’s take on small-town America is the strong sense of community that underlines the very public stand-off. Mildred may butt heads with Willoughby, his hotheaded deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell) and other folks during the day, but at night they can all still gather at the local watering hole to share a few beers and trade relatively playful insults. More remarkably, when Willoughby coughs blood onto Mildred’s face during a heated argument in the police station, one realises in the moment that follows that these are two friends who do care for one another and are caught up in an extreme situation where neither one is wholly right nor wholly wrong.

    Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an unpredictable film, its narrative frequently steering itself into unexpected corners, resolute and fearless in wading neck-high into morally complex waters, quick to condemn yet also open to forgiveness. It’s part modern-day Western revenge drama, part Shakespearean tragedy, part commentary on gender and racial divides. McDonagh’s corrosive vulgarity remains very much intact as does his often objectionable on paper but funny in execution humour, but Three Billboards in Ebbing, Missouri sees a new depth of emotional resonance in his work. The film is a stirring and provocative morality tale that finds McDonagh working in a higher register, aided by Ben Davis’ unshowy cinematography, Carter Burwell’s piquant but melancholy score, a magnificent supporting cast, and McDormand’s powerhouse portrayal.

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  • “Raped while Dying.
    Still no arrests.
    How come, chief Willoughby?”

    Those who read my writing attempts occasionally, know that I thoroughly hate everything that has the appearance of a serial or when prequels and sequels are being produced just to exploit the story even further. So, don’t panic while reading the following statement. I hope they’ll come up with a sequel to “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri“. A continuation of this brilliant story where we’ll learn how Mildred (Frances McDormand) and Dixon (Sam Rockwell) handle the case. I am sure that this film will be difficult to surpass in its genre. And not because of some amazing special effects or action-packed film sequences. But because of the ingenious story and the unparalleled acting. And even though the story is filled with ultra-serious issues such as discrimination, domestic violence, cancer, sexual abuse and murder, there’s also a subtle comic layer that is saturated with blackened humor and finished with cynical and ironic elements. This is so up my alley.

    “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” is about anger, rage and helplessness. The anger about an unsolved case with Angela, the daughter of Mildred, being raped and burned alive by one or more unknowns. And after several months Mildred has come up with the bright idea to denounce the failure of the judicial investigation. And this by unabashedly spreading the message about it, on three billboards with Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) as main target, solely because of his leading position as Chief. But it’s not only anger and revenge you’ll be witnessing in this magnificent film. Forgiveness is also included. Like the moment during a police interrogation in which Mildred feels genuinely concerned about Willoughby’s health. I was also surprised when Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), the owner of the advertising billboards, offers Dixon a glass of orange juice. Two moments in which blind anger made room for compassion.

    Even though Woody’s name is written on the billboard in huge letters, his contribution isn’t really decisive. To my surprise, he also gets out of the picture halfway through the film. In the first place it’s Frances McDormand who demands the most attention. And she does that in a stunning way. A bitter woman who’s tired of waiting for an arrest. Mildred is under the assumption that no effort is made by the corps to follow any clue or performs real police work. In her eyes, the police officers are a group of racist dipshits who spend their days harassing Afro-American fellow citizens. She’s a tough lady who firmly tackles those who get in her way, both verbally and physically. And she spares nobody. Whether it’s a priest or a dentist. She isn’t even afraid to kick some young students in their crotch. And even though she appears to be an unpleasant person with a sharp tongue, she manages to arouse your sympathy. The sometimes dry, humorous remarks take care of that. Frances McDormand may rightfully become the owner of the coveted statue during the Academy Awards in a few months’ time.

    And such a golden statue can also be reserved for Sam Rockwell. His acting is simply magisterial. Dixon is an aggressive hillybilly who likes to beat up minorities and appears to be drunk constantly while doing his job as a policeman, knowing it’s tolerated by his superior. A not so quite intellectual overweight man. And Dixon’s stupidity sometimes creates comical situations. And finally there’s Woody Harrelson. An actor after my own heart (whom had stolen it already because of his participation in the sitcom “Cheers“) who always plays his roles with so much flexibility and professionalism. In contrast to the confused and sometimes cruel character from “The Glass Castle“, Chief Willoughby is an honest person who’s sincerely worried about the case of Mildred’s daughter. All in all, these are three parts that are played in an excellent and marvelous way by these actors. This film is already commendable because of that.

    But it is also the intelligently written script that makes this film worthwhile. It’s indeed a film full of heavy themes. The injustice in this world and how people deal with it. The processing of an immense grief. And there are also uncomfortable moments full of aggression and threats. And yet there is always a laconic undertone that is peppered with thoughtful, ambiguous humor. And these different moods alternate at breakneck speed. Some scenes change from aggressive and threatening, into humorous and emotional. “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a gem of a film I’ve enjoyed tremendously. And believe me, I’m looking forward to seeing it once more.

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  • The film is framed by different forms of blankness. The first shot is of the three shredded and dilapidated billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Each is a fragmented ruin of a past life and meaning — like the characters we meet later.
    In the last the screen is filled with Mildred and Dixon driving to Idaho either to kill or not to kill the rapist who threatened Mildred in her shop, then later beat up Dixon in the bar. He has described having raped someone — presumably while on duty in the Middle East — but it wasn’t her daughter.
    Their decision remains unknown, a blank, but it doesn’t matter. These former antagonists are at last united, despite her having started the fire that scarred him and his former brutality as a cop.
    The subject of the film is how Mildred and the billboards bring each other back to life. She revives them as a ploy to pressure Sheriff Willoughby to move on her raped and killed daughter’s case. That initiative also returns her to a renewed purpose in life.
    Her moral revival spreads to Dixon, when Willoughby’s letter to him encourages a new self-respect and a check on his violent rage.
    It’s not just the town that’s Ebbing. Life, hope, community, self-respect, all seem sapped from the characters whether directly or indirectly affected by the young girl’s murder.
    The four main women provide an interesting antithesis. Mildred’s ex’s 19-year old girlfriend and adman Red Wilby’s secretary are two perky ditzes edging into the world of experience. At the other extreme Mildred and Dixon’s mother are hard cases, forged by experience into an indomitable will. The unemphasized turtle in Dixon’s mother’s lap is an emblem of her son, slow, sheltered, who at the end will come out of his violent shell and leave her to go off with Mildred.
    In the middle stands Willoughby’s pretty young widow, blessed with a loving husband and two delightful daughters but dashed by her husband’s cancer and suicide. Her unintentionally cruel confrontation of Mildred shows her strain and insecurity.
    The Peter Dinklage character James is a dignified counterpoint to the variously swaggering ex and Dixon — and at its worst, the soldier rapist. James is a comic replay of the sheriff’s integrity and character.
    This black, salty comedy is distinguished by the range of quirky characters, the brilliant offbeat dialogue and the complexity of characterization. Dixon’s first conversation with the sign-man is a Beckettian (or Abbott and Costello) piece of classic non-communication. Mildred may check her children’s obscenity but spews inspired herself.
    And everyone has a backstory. Mildred’s ex may seem a pathetic wife-beater turned cradle-robber but he’s also in his own way trying to come to terms with his daughter’s loss. Unable to cede Mildred any ground, he burns down her billboards.
    Mildred seems driven by maternal devotion — but she’s haunted by guilt, after her quarrel with her daughter sent her off to her doom. Her son is twice torn — between needing to turn away from his sister’s loss and his mother’s obsession with it and between his warring parents.
    Even the buffoonish Dixon musters our sympathy when we learn his rage dates back to his father’s death. So does his dependence on his mother. To get his suspect’s DNA he invites a physical beating as if to atone for his own violence before. There’s a double redemption and reconciliation when his own victim Red brings him an orange juice in the hospital.
    Sheriff Willoughby is our first and presiding case of redemptive revelation. Foul-mouthed and angry at the interruption of his Easter dinner, he proves a loving father and husband. His suicide note to his wife turns the hellish world we’ve been watching into the heaven he has found in his family.
    If we start with Mildred’s view of the incompetent lazy sheriff, we’re turned by his brave handling of his cancer, especially when Mildred comforts his eruption. She moves from impatient anger to “It’s okay, baby.” He later embraces Mildred by paying the next month’s fee for the billboards embarrassing him. His note to Dixon confirms our sense of an honourable man caught in a dilemma beyond his easy solution, but simply trying to do the best he can. For everyone.

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