Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri (R) ★★★

Fox Searchlight Pictures

Coen brothers meet Quentin Tarantino in Ebbing, Missouri

A grieving mother, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides to send a public message to shame her town’s chief of police, (Woody Harrelson) into finding her daughter’s murderer. The fictional story takes place in Ebbing, Missouri seven months after the police have yet to find a murder suspect.

Ebbing, Missouri appears to be the quintessential Midwest town that oozes charm and safety. After the savage rape and murder of one of the town’s teenage girls—a cold chill has settled in as in—very cold indeed—a cold case. Mildred Hayes takes matters into her own hands by renting three billboards outside town to shake up the townspeople and its police force. This bold stand begins to trigger a wave of violence, in what appeared to be somewhat of a dark comedy turns into a Quentin Tarantino-ish violent, profanity-laced drama of a cautionary tale about the dangers of playing God.

Martin McDonagh, an Irish playwright is the writer/director who’s critically acclaimed film In Bruges (2008) revolves around frivolity and bloodshed. In ‘Three Billboards’ we see a similar tone. Willoughby and his racist deputy, Dixon (Sam Rockwell), alternate as the targets of Mildred’s wrath. They appear to be simple folk that are concerned about protecting their citizens and especially Mildred, as she’s lost her daughter. Mildred takes no prisoners in her grief and even calls out the local priest (Nick Searcy), she slyly brings up the pedophilia scandals of the Catholic Church while he’s in her home, and points a finger directly to him as the culprit.

Mildred’s behavior becomes increasingly bizarre, as she wallows in her grief. She’s somewhat scary to be near, as her path seems to be heading toward self-destruction, all the while her constant rage fuels the townspeople. We aren’t sure where McDonagh is taking us although Mildred’s actions do speak for themselves.

The acting is tremendous by all, and I’d be surprised if we didn’t see a few nominations come awards time. My favorite was Woody Harrelson who plays the charm card when convincing us that he really is a good guy and is truly bothered by the unsolved crime in his town. We see him as a family man whose warmth and charisma play out in a few scenes. Sam Rockwell, (underrated in my book) is tremendous. The depth and range of his challenging character, the momma’s boy who breaks free; fleeing towards independence and redemption. Frances MacDormand’s role is opposite of her pregnant policewoman, Marge in Fargo that earned her Academy Award; she’s on the other side of the fence now, and she’s darned intriguing to watch.

The Bottom-Line? ‘Three Billboards’ dark character-driven narrative that does loose it’s footing near the end as Mildred is running on fumes throwing caution to the wind. I can’t say that I loved the film’s plot, but I did appreciate the outstanding acting by this exceptionally talented cast. It’s a bloody, violent film that’s actually rather sad.

Cast: Frances McDormand (Mildred), Woody Harrelson (Bill Willoughby), Sam Rockwell (Jason Dixon), Lucas Hedges (Robbie), Caleb Landry Jones (Red Welby)

Credits: Directed and written by Martin McDonagh.

Studio: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Run Time: 1 hour 55 minutes