It’s rare these days that I go to the movie theatre and walk out of it feeling satisfied, but Martin McDonagh’s new masterpiece, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri left me feeling more than satisfied, I feel renewed. To be clear, if this film doesn’t win best picture at the Academy Awards I’ll be shocked, as not only is it a masterfully made film, but it’s cultural relevance to the current American experience sinks deep and hard. I’ll admit I’m reviewing with bias, as I went into watching the film having adored In Bruges and having placed Seven Psychopaths high up in my all time favorite films list. The truth is that Three Billboards is a McDonagh film through and through, but this time it’s got something really special.
In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are both so fondly remembered because they brought something new to a rather bland cinematic landscape. McDonagh injected his Irish roots, British sensibilities, and theater playwriting talent into both films, creating a fantastical landscape for zany characters to mope around while they fumble through introspective and philosophical thoughts. Three Billboards does the same thing, except this time, as you can guess from the title, the film is based in a rural Missouri town called Ebbing. While this may seem like a strange location for a British director to set a film, the second you see the main character Mildred (played by the amazing Frances McDormand) in the opening sequence it all makes sense. By choosing such a quaint, rural, and quite frankly American location to film at, McDonagh is able to perfectly hold the mirror up to American society, but instead of using this reflection to shame, we learn to empathize with the complex characters on screen.
Three Billboards’ perfect and timely plot centers around McDormand’s character Mildred putting up three billboards on the outskirts of town, all of which leave a message for the local police chief, played masterfully by Woody Harrelson. Mildred’s character is a mother driven by rage, shaken by the fact that her daughter was brutally raped and murdered less than a year ago and nobody has been able to track down the villain who did it. Mildred puts up the signs in order to spur her community to keep the search up, but unfortunately due to some unfortunate timing, all she does is direct the rage of her troubled town towards her. Most of the rage comes from a lower level cop named Jason Dixon (played in an Academy Award worthy performance from Sam Rockwell) who has a history of antagonizing Ebbing’s non-white residents and doesn’t appreciate Mildred’s defamation of the police force. Something that can’t be overstated is how perfect the supporting cast is, with Harrelson, Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, and plenty more all showing up in force, fleshing out a town that’s made up of living, breathing people.
What’s going to make Three Billboards a classic is that it doesn’t settle for one note representations and easy plot development. While a lazy film would center around cops solving Mildred’s case, this film uses the case in order to analyze the world such an atrocity happened in, which just happens to be our own. Unhappy with making Missouri out to be the basic caricature that we’re used to seeing, McDonagh introduces us to a large cluster of characters who all seem so easy to understand at first, but the more time we spend with them the more we understand their actions are far more complex, yet relatable. We see how powerful simple emotions can guide us, and how basic desires can shape us into people we wouldn’t even be able to recognize. The film critiques just how much something like insecurity or self-loathing can brew into something much darker, and how much of America’s problems today stem from bad parenting, which creates rotten roots and a toxic society. I don’t think I’ve ever experienced so much emotion in a theater, and by the time the film wrapped, I immediately wanted to watch it over again just to experience the roller coaster again.
Theater or Digital: Watch it in theater, and then buy it
Recommend: 100%, My top pick of the year so far
Just as Blade Runner: 2049 and Dunkirk weren’t for everyone this year, Three Billboards might sit sour with some people. For me though, the film’s ability to tackle such strong subjects and boil them down to raw emotion through the use of witty dialogue and beautiful direction really got to me. Be sure to check this film out in theaters when it releases in November, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an important movie, and it’s convenient that it also happens to be perfectly made.