The first thing you need to know about Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is that it’s not your typical Hollywood crime movie. It doesn’t lay out everything nicely in front of you and allow you find the clues and piece together the mystery. It is a compelling mix of dark comedy and crime that drops you in the middle of a small town struggling to pretend that everything is normal after a shocking crime. On the surface it’s a gritty, rude and heartbreaking story and yet the use of comedy means that you’ll be laughing unapologetically the whole way through the film.
The story follows Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a tough, divorced mother in the small town of Ebbing; seven months after the rape and murder of her teenage daughter Angela. Frustrated with the lack of progress by the local police department in finding the killer, Mildred rents out three billboards and plasters them with messages calling out the incompetence of the police.
The triad of billboards reading, ‘Raped While Dying’, ‘And Still No Arrests?’, ‘How come Chief Willoughby?’, are Mildred’s metaphorical kick to the backside of the police force as well as a raised middle finger. Retaliation from the police follows, kicking off a ‘war’ between Mildred and the police force.
Frances McDormand as Mildred is perfection. Her no nonsense portrayal of a hardened mother demanding answers for her daughter’s death and not caring about anyone’s feelings being hurt in the process is as funny as it is upsetting. You feel her regret over her strained relationship with her daughter and you feel her pain in not having any answers for her death. She is real, she is strong and she is badass! Thanks to McDormand’s portrayal, Mildred is the kind of character that stays with you long after the end of the film.
Another standout performance comes from Sam Rockwell as Officer Jason Dixon, an alcoholic, racist member of the local police who takes Mildred’s billboards as a direct attack on the community of Ebbing as well as the police. Dixon experiences the most character development and goes from making your mouth hang open at his antics at the beginning of the film to making you feel real sympathy for his character and struggles he’s faced.
The film isn’t afraid to push the boundaries on what is and is not acceptable to say to another person. There’s swearing and inappropriate jokes that you can’t help but cringe and laugh at, but at its core the film is about relationships and love. These relationships are the winning aspect of the film. Each is real through its imperfections. You can understand that there can be anger and annoyance between these small town characters and yet it doesn’t detract from the love and understanding that they have for one another.
It’s simple: if you’re looking for a film with an entertaining and compelling storyline which is shot beautifully, look no further than Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. You will get lost in the small town of Ebbing surrounded by funny characters that are finding motivation to move forward with their lives.