Movies about murders are more often than not about the mystery or the whodunnit plot reveal. Very few are mediations on the vacuum it leaves in the lives of the victim’s loved ones. ‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ is such a meditation on hate, the desire for justice and how that can be confused with revenge. It’s also darkly funny and well-acted. Find out more in the review.
Mildred, is haunted by the rape and murder of her daughter and the subsequent lack of action from the local police department. Outside of where she lives are three abandoned billboards. She hires them to ask and remind the local town of Ebbing Missouri, as to what has been done to catch the killer? Mildred’s action divides the town but might actually help in moving the case along.
It’s hard to exactly pinpoint what type of film Three Billboards is and that is what exactly makes it so engaging. It presents itself as a mystery and a woman bent on some justice-fused crusade. You expect small-town bigotry and quirky characters and if you told a film in that world you would probably end up with a solid but unspectacular film. But there of course is more to it.
Given the description, it might surprise to some that Three Billboards is darkly funny. It might be less a surprise for those who have seen previous films by director/writer Martin McDonagh. It never feels entirely like jokes that are being set up, so you wouldn’t necessarily call it a comedy. Yet people’s action and reactions are so off-kilter and unexpected that you can’t help but laugh. Examples that you will laugh at are the last actions of a man who has committed suicide, a fight in a dentist office or bad parenting or inappropriate responses to a date with dwarfism. It’s a fine line to walk but it is deftly done here. A lot of the more traditional humour comes from Mildred’s take no prisoners response.
The other fascinating emphasis of Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri is its desire to focus its attention not on the unravelling of mystery but on the lingering effects of indignation, anger and hate. This darkness of an unresolved murder and rape eats away at the soul of this small town. We see it manifested in the restless lives of the Sheriff and especially Mildred as they struggle to solve the problem. Part of it that the time has left bitterness and frustration enough that justice may never be enough and it’s a question that Three Billboards boldly asks.
All of this in a movie requires it to be brilliantly written and of course, portrayed and so the fact that Three Billboards is a masterclass in acting makes complete sense. Whether it’s the redneck Sam Rockwell, the thoughtful but simple Woody Harrelson or the complicated but tough Frances McDormand, all make themselves seems like more than a written character.
There isn’t a whole lot to pick apart, but one might be the transition from small town bigotted deputy to something resembling a hero. It’s not a very conventional journey and I’m not sure my description of the start and end point are entirely apt. But what makes him into a likeable character is not entirely convincing from a story point of view it all happens too quickly and despite Rockwell doing his absolute best to convince you of it something still seems off.
‘Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri’ Review Cheat Sheet
Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, is a thoughtful, darkly funny film that is strengthened by amazing writing and acting. Its lack of easy answers will frustrate others but ultimately make the film special. Excellent and tough yet ultimately rewarding viewing.
+ a great an unexpected meditation on anger and justice.
+ Well written and acted.
+ Darkly funny.
-The transition of Sam Rockwell’s character is well acted but happens too quickly.