Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has swept the nominations this award season. Not only does the film cover an intense, current topic but star of the film, Frances McDormand, has been recognized for her rousing acceptance speech for Best Film Drama Actress at the Golden Globes. After watching the Golden Globes and continuously hearing about the film on social media, I knew I had to see it.
Note, this article contains spoilers.
Three Billboards is centered around Mildred Hayes’s grief and anger over the unsolved murder, and rape, of her teenage daughter, Angela. As the months go by and the local police have made no progress on finding her daughter’s murderer, Mildred Hayes rents three billboards on the road by her house. Against a red background, in all capital letters the billboards say:
RAPED WHILE DYING
AND STILL NO ARRESTS?
HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?
The question of “How come?” is what the film continuously turns back to. Three Billboards is less about trying to find Angela’s murderer and more about the lives of those in the town and the town itself. Director Martin McDonagh rolls issues of racism, homophobia, abuse, and death into Three Billboards and unsurprisingly, he does it well.
Frances McDormand’s portrayal of Mildred Hayes is refreshing and fierce. Even when Hayes is pushing the moral limits of her situation, there is a sharpness to her that you cannot help but love. In her raw moments of loss and flashbacks that showcase everything regrettable said on the night of Angela’s disappearance, Hayes gives you a rollercoaster of emotions in two hours. Opposite of McDormand is Woody Harrelson’s, Chief Willoughby. Dying of cancer, a secret the whole town seems to know, it is in the heart wrenching scenes with his family that you fall for Chief Willoughby. Sam Rockwell’s, Jason Dixon, is basically everything that is wrong with the world in one person. As the film progresses, Dixon becomes increasingly self aware only through his interactions with Hayes, Willoughby and Red Welby.
Three Billboards has multiple subplots that are relevant to the world we live in today. Sam Rockwell’s character, Jason Dixon, frequently uses racial slurs, violence, and alcohol to get his police work done. He beat an African American man in custody and later in the film attacks Red Welby (Caleb Landry), injuring him badly enough to cause hospitalization. I would be remiss to exclude the fact that Red Welby is the owner of the three billboards and is gay, frequently being insulted by Dixon in the movie. Jason Dixon is the strongest negative force in the film, but not the only one. There is the pastor who speaks on behalf of the towns distaste for the billboards to Hayes in her home, Hayes abusive ex-husband and a few other town bullies. The fictional town of Ebbing seems to be built upon all the stereotypes and negative ideas placed on small towns.
For all the “bad guys” in Three Billboards there are sources of kindness that show humanity in a film on one of the most difficult subjects. Just as you lose hope, a character such as Peter Dinklage’s, James or Red Welby pull at your emotions causing some of the most tear-worthy scenes in the film. The deserving hate to Dixon edges off a bit as the film goes on, and we see his development in the loss of his mentor, Chief Willoughby and gain some understanding to what shaped him in the scenes shot in his childhood home. Overall, I give Three Billboards 4 out of 5 stars.
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