This is truly a terrible title for a really great movie.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a fairly accurate description of the initial set up for the film, but seems to be too much of a mouthful to do this justice.
Despite the clunky title, the film is a tremendous film filled with dark comedic elements (I hesitate to call it a dark comedy), shocking moments of unpredictability and sensational performances by just about everyone in the ensemble cast.
After having her daughter raped and murdered seven years prior and seeing little advancement on the case from the local police, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decided to take matters into her own hands and attempt to give the police a push into activity. Mildred rented three little used billboards on a stretch of roads rarely used anymore and put up signs asking the question about why her daughter’s killer had not bee caught yet. She called out popular local sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on the billboards by name, starting a storm of trouble throughout the small town.
Much of the trouble is stirred up by police officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a racist, crooked cop who is known for reportedly torturing African-American suspects, but whom Willoughby keeps around because of his faith in the man inside of him. Dixon is just about everything that you wish a police officer would not be.
Things happen in this film that you cannot believe as characters continue to escalate their behavior into ways that become worse and worse. The film has many moments of humor, but, there are some times, when you will feel horrible for laughing.
There is no doubt that the three main actors here, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are absolutely brilliant in their portrayals of these complex and, and in many ways, disturbing characters. You begin the movie expecting to be rooting for one character in particular, but not too long into it, your choice is uncertain. All three of these actors have a really good chance of being nominated for an Academy Award for this work.
McDormand, in particular, is at her very best, arguably. She brings such pain and unforgiving anger to her character of Mildred that, despite her doing some things that may weaken her support, you understand the lengths that she takes it. She feels like a natural disaster, a tornado of some kind pointed in a certain direction.
Rockwell gives an impactful performance as Dixon. This is a character that could easily become one of those one-note villains that is there simply to provide a counter balance to the justice warrior that is McDormand. However, Rockwell creates a much more interesting character that is fully developed and one that you actually relate with, despite his own, deep seeded issues and his horrible acts of anger.
That is the truth behind this movie. The movie is not about justice. This movie is about grief and loss and how these emotions are capable of creating an anger that can fester and rot inside of you until it explodes, changing the person that you are and suddenly washed by a wave of hostility.
I was into much of this movie, but I must say that I did not truly like the way the film ended, leaving too much ambiguity for this film. I am also unsure if what they were thinking about doing really fit with either character. For such a strong film, the ending was not what I had wanted.
I was also not too impressed with the inclusion of Peter Dinklage. His character felt like he was included because they had Peter Dinklage and they needed a role for him. I mean, he does fine in the role, but, without this character, I am not sure how this film changes and that feels like a waste of talent.
There were other good performances in the film though. Lucas Hedges (from Manchester by the Sea) is really good as Mildred’s son. Zeljko Ivanek was here as another cop. Caleb Landrey Jones has a vital role as Red, who rents the billboards to Mildred. Red has one of the most human scene in the film, providing almost a redeeming nature for the film. John Hawkes brings more to the role of Mildred’s abusive ex-husband than you would think possible and, Samara Weaving brings an innocent humor to the stupidity of his new, 19-year old flame. Finally, Sandy Martin is a hoot as the trailer-park-like momma for Dixon.
This movie will certainly be discussed come award season and it will be well deserved. With the exception of a misstep at the end, Three Billboards outside Ebbing County is a very strong film with dynamic performances.