After seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, I sat in my seat through the credits and then some. Not because I was curious about the makers of the film, but because I was in awe of what I had just watched. The movie was dark and depressing, but also hilarious and inspiring. Its world and the people in it are awful and ignorant at times, yet compassionate and well-intentioned at others. The film’s messages about grief, anger, hope, and forgiveness are equally loud and clear thanks to an astonishing cast and superb writing. Martin McDonagh further establishes himself as one of my favorite directors and writers with the masterpiece that is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Most of the film follows Mildred Hayes, (Frances McDormand) a divorced single mother on a quest for justice. Mildred’s daughter was murdered in a particularly gruesome fashion seven months before the events of the movie, and Mildred believes the police have given up on finding her killer. To keep her daughter’s case on everyone’s minds and motivate the police, Mildred buys the ad space on the titular posters to call out Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). This decision puts Mildred at odds with the police department, and most of the town, which creates all kinds of chaos. Those who stand by Willoughby, like Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), make poor decisions in retaliation, and the situation just gets further and further out of everyone and anyone’s control.
Helping to sell the story and the people in it is some truly imaginative writing. I loved the witty comebacks and heartfelt conversations in McDonagh’s previous films, and he doesn’t disappoint with his newest work. A lot of it is vulgar, in either language or topic, but it all suits the characters speaking and the tone of the film. One bit of dialogue that comes to mind is from a scene where Mildred converses with a priest (Nick Searcy) and makes one of the most darkly humorous comparisons that I’ve ever heard.
In addition to spoken lines, the narrative is damn near perfect. It kept surprising me over and over again. I covered my mouth to gasp, or stifle laughter, after being caught off-guard more than a couple times. The pacing is fantastic too, giving you just long enough to breathe in between all the emotionally charged moments.
While the writing makes sure everyone in the film is firing on all cylinders, the previously mentioned stars almost make the great supporting cast look like amateurs. Frances McDormand is marvelous in her greatest role yet (sorry, Fargo). Mildred is a woman pushed to her breaking point and goes through almost every negative emotion one can. She tries to bottle up everything inside, keeping it just barely noticeable at the surface, and McDormand sells every second of it. Bringing an equal level of talent is Sam Rockwell. “Layered’ doesn’t even begin to describe his performance. I’d love to say more, but his character’s journey is best left as a surprise. Woody Harrelson shines as well, and has the honor of the most jaw-dropping moment (there are a few) in the movie. Harrelson portrays the exhausted, stoic, sympathetic Police Chief with the talent and swagger he’s known for.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri tells a powerful, emotional story with believable characters backed by a phenomenally talented cast. It’s not only my favorite film this year, but one of my favorite films period. It’s unique, contradictory blend of melancholy and hope is a true sight to behold, and I can’t wait to see what comes next from the brilliant mind of Martin McDonagh.