After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby, the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon — an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence — gets involved, the battle is only exacerbated.
Review: Let me start this review by thanking you, dear reader/follower, for supporting this blog despite the near-absence of posts on it for weeks, if not months, on end. Thank you, thank you. 🙂
Now for the review.
Having read effusive praise for this film, and in the light of its having been nominated for a slew of Academy Awards, among other notable wins, let me say first up how much I loved Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri myself. We’ll see the good and the (scant) bad that there is about the film. But straight up, I recommend you watch this film. If there is one film you have to watch, watch this.
The premise, as mentioned in the synopsis above, is simple, if quirky. Ideally, this should give you an idea of what to expect from the film. On the surface, it is about a mother’s fight for justice for her daughter, as she takes it upon herself to force the police department to find the killer. But scratch the surface, and you have a film with a plethora of themes and issues, all important in their own right. Writer-director Martin McDonagh has woven these themes with such intricacy that there is nary a thread that looks out of place. It is, at once, a film about justice and violence and retribution and love and kindness, among others. And while, as it seems on the surface, the main issue here us finding the killer of Mrs. Hayes’ daughter, in reality, it is just one of many. Also notable is the fact how the director doesn’t try to paint people in shades of black and white. Each of them has their shades of grey (no pun intended!) and each of them is capable of the greatest love and the deepest hate.
The other high point of the film is the way it combines wicked laughter with gut-wrenching pain. I don’t remember the last film that made me both cry and laugh as much as this film did.
Then there is the way the film shows how each one of us is capable of finding redemption, and doing good by our fellow men despite the mountains of hardships that we might be enduring ourselves.
To excel with any one of the above themes is difficult enough, to do so with all of them should be just plain impossible. But that’s where Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri surpasses expectations. And oh, there is an undercurrent of feminism too, about the film, as it should be expected. It isn’t explicit, although that doesn’t diminish the film one bit.
The film’s soundtrack, which starts even before the opening credits roll, is a rather strong suit in itself. The standout song? “‘Tis the last rose of summer,” in an operatic rendition. Here’s a YouTube lyrics video of the same. Do have a look.
The production design and the cinematography are wonderful. You can see, almost from the very beginning, that this is a movie made on a frugal budget, despite the cast ($12 million). But it is proof, not that proof was ever needed, that you don’t need gimmicks or millions of dollars worth of VFX to make a great film. The editing is crisp, so much so that when the end credits roll, you are left with a feeling of staying there, in Ebbing, Missouri, with the film’s cast for a little while more.
We haven’t even started discussing the performances!
Frances McDormand is an Oscar winner. That’s a fact. Her role in Fargo was enough to seal her place as one of the best to have plied her craft. But here, as the seething, determined mother of a murdered teenaged daughter, she is fierce. To say that Mildred Hayes is ballsy would be an understatement. She has faceoffs with almost every other character in the movie, and almost every time, she manages to come out trumps. There is a huge scope for understated nuance too, in her role. And those scenes, where she is silently looking at the horizon or sobbing, are equally effective, if not more. Her Oscar nomination is fully deserved, and I think she might even win.
Sam Rockwell, who plays Officer Dixon, probably has the best role of his career till date. Dixon is the butt of jokes not only from townsfolk, but also from his colleagues. But he isn’t simply there for comic relief. The second half of the film shows a metamorphosis that makes you feel for him, and smile and sigh with him.
Woody Harrelson shines through his role. It could have been a generic Southern policeman role for him, but it isn’t, thanks both to the script and his (usual) start turn, which makes him look affable even when he turns sinister. Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish and John Hawkes, all have smaller roles with a couple of standout scenes each. Many of these actors have played character roles in southern-set films over the years. This is among one of their better ones, both individually and collectively. Dinklage gets his standout scene in a restaurant, while Jones’, in the hospital, where he offers orange juice to a patient, is among the film’s most poignant.
Poignant! That’s what this film is. Despite the heartbreak, chaos and tragedy that pervades it, the hope and humanity never leaves the film. And what better thing can a film do than show us the best and worst of what it means to be a human being, as this film does.
A word for writer-director Martin McDonagh. Having won recognition and acclaim both for his plays and films, he finally has a project that could emulate last year’s feat of Kenneth Lonergan (Manchester By The Sea).
Having arrived here, you might be wondering why I have almost skipped around what actually happens in the film, as also what its shortcomings are. To the first, I’d say that even revealing a little more than what I did could slip into the spoiler territory, which is a total no-no. To the second, well, there is one major plot point which is left unresolved, and which could leave you unsatisfied. Other than that? Not much.
Verdict: Recommended? Highly recommended.
Viewer Guide: The film has strong language and some violence.
Genre: Crime, Drama.
If you have (or haven’t 😉 ) watched Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, drop your thoughts on the film and this review in the comments section.
Thanks for reading.
P. S.: Among other recent viewings, I’d also recommend you check out the following, each of which is a extraordinary film in its own right:
- Mudbound (2017), language – English.
- Headhunters (2011), Norwegian.
- Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), English.
- The Vanishing (1988), Dutch/French.
- Elle (2016), French.
P. P. S. : Here’s an alternative poster of the film that I quite liked, courtesy Tom Coupland (www.alternativemovieposters.com).