Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI weaves a complex and gritty tapestry of emotion through black comedy and thought-provoking situations. After the horrific death of her teenage daughter, fed up and grieving Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) starts a war with the local police force due to their inability to catch the killer. While renting out three decrepit billboards and creating slogans that single out the chief of police (Woody Harrelson), a chain of events set off within the town, causing an uproar fueled by mixed emotions and heated scenarios.
I don’t think enough can be said about this film, along with actress Frances McDormand and what she truly brings to this role. Mildred Hayes is a strong character, while also experiencing a vast range of emotions that are normal for anyone to go through. As a character, she personifies human emotions in their rawest form, perfectly jumping between grief, anger, humor, regret, and sympathy. She’s very complex, acting as the film’s protagonist while also displaying antagonistic qualities due to the intensity of the situations she’s in. A large portion of the cast falls subject to overwhelming anger, which proves to be very consuming and blinding, and Mildred demonstrates the power of that anger masked underneath confidence and wit.
Every single character seems to experience different feelings and realizations throughout the film, and does so in their own way. We witness multiple levels of transcendence for each character, which I feel the entire cast depicts very well, all while balancing comedic and heart-wrenching sequences simultaneously. The portrayals by every single actor in this film is pretty spot-on, and some of my favorite roles for them so far. Woody Harrelson as Chief Willoughby is brilliant and, believe it or not, is more or less the calming presence in the film. Playing alongside Harrelson is the always tenacious Sam Rockwell, who portrays the character of Dixon, acting as the film’s unpredictable hothead with violent and slandering viewpoints.
I’ve always loved McDonagh’s choice in having Carter Burwell as the composer for all of his films. He creates such a distinct sound that automatically ties you with McDonagh’s directing style. It’s a sound that essentially emulates a Spaghetti Western mixed with an orchestral pit, relaying messages of sympathy, contemplation, and the feeling of going to war. I was quite partial to the Seven Psychopaths soundtrack, as each chosen track meshed perfectly alongside Burwell’s score, and the same can be said about THREE BILLBOARDS. Every song chosen by McDonagh serves a unique placement purpose- listening to the lyrics of “His Master’s Voice” by Monsters of Folk, which plays during a very violent and aggressive scene, really captures and relates to the atrocity happening on screen, while also having a soothing sound that sweeps unexpectedly inside of you.
I’m seeing a lot of backlash from critics that are finding themselves offended by the blunt reactions between characters and the aspects of rape, race, and language, leaving them feeling as if the director was being too insensitive and questioning why this film is up for so many awards. But I completely disagree with this. What happens in this movie is a fabricated narrative form of pure reality, with events that can (and have) happened to real people. An artist’s job is to pull from life to create a fictitious story, showcasing the beauty, confusion, and horrors that surround everyone. I commend anyone who can be blunt and to the point, as most people are too afraid. That’s what art is; it can be disgusting, and at the same time very beautiful. I think this film personifies just the right amount of theatrical reality that audiences should be exposed to, allowing people to become more aware of themselves and their surroundings.
There are also characters, that critics feel, that are not worthy of pity or redemption due to their actions and close-minded viewpoints. I’m not one for spoilers, so I will not dive further into who or what I’m specifically referring to, but this is also a point that I very much disagree with. I feel that we as human beings, without knowledge or willing acceptance, can fall subject to close-minded and hateful feelings due to sheltered environments, lack of education, and lack of empathy. These societal constraints can lead people to grow and become violent, angry, and misguided; unable to tap into their ability to understand and sympathize. Every single main character goes through multiple transitions in the film, feeling a vast range of different things at different times. Some channel all of their actions into anger, while some into peace and acceptance, while others transition from bigoted thoughts and violent actions against minorities, to becoming self aware and wanting to redeem and follow a different path. This is not meant to justify the actions of police brutality or the terrible, misguided thoughts against different races and sexes, but rather to showcase that change is possible within everyone. And holding grudges and anger against people who have done wrong is not the answer. I feel a main point to this story is to let that anger go and show the light that everyone is capable of having. As stated in the film, “anger just begets greater anger”, and this couldn’t be more relevant to almost every action in this film.
Without hesitation, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is ranked amongst my top three favorite films of 2017. This is a movie that is not only right up my alley, but one that I think everyone should see and understand. It contains a great premise, an outstanding cast, and beautiful poster artwork to boot. We all walk away from a film feeling and viewing different things, which is the beauty of filmmaking, and I hope you can take away from it the unapologetic reality that’s been placed in a dark comedic setting, with subject matters that are relevant within any given era or time. This is a powerful film, and one that made me feel a range of emotions throughout its duration, making it a perfect and completely involved viewing experience. Check out THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI on all viewing platforms, or catch its re-release in select theaters today.