Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Film Review
There has been a great deal of enthusiastic chatter in regards to the new film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, especially since it’s Golden Globe nominations yesterday for Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Actress (Frances McDormand). With all this positive hype, I decided to venture to the AMC movie theatre at the Palisades Mall to see what all the hoopla is about. I left the theatre still wondering.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has a compelling premise. A woman named Mildred Hayes (McDormand), whose daughter was raped and killed, wants to know why local law enforcement still hasn’t found her attacker. Having received unsatisfactory feedback from the police, she decides to rent three local billboards and use them to publicly question Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for his failure to make an arrest. Willoughby, who is an affable gentleman, is well liked by the other law enforcement officers who oversees. It is particularly hard for alcoholic officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) when, Willoughby (who is dying from cancer) kills himself just a few weeks after Mildred’s billboards post on Easter Sunday. Dixon goes on a violent rampage that loses him his job. His unraveling takes him to some dark places, but thanks to a letter from Willoughby delivered to him after his mentor’s death, he eventually straightens himself up enough to help Mildred try and find her daughter’s killer.
As I said, a compelling premise, but the film meanders in and out of coherency, often subscribing to plot points that are either pat or convenient, but that are unbelievable. Things happen that feel forced in order to make the plot work. The only character who goes on any journey in this film is Dixon, and he’s also the only character who is given any strong development. Sam Rockwell is the stand-out performance in this film and it is a shame his edgy, and ultimately pathetic, turn was not nominated. McDormand, who is one of America’s most unsettling and uncompromising actresses, is always going to shine, even if she is reading the phone book. Martin McDonough’s screenplay is not exactly that low on substance, but I do feel there is a certain amount of The Emperor’s New Clothes happening here. The emperor is naked! McDormand takes a mere cypher of a character and gives us everything she has, creating the illusion that Mildred is someone we should care about. Kudos to her for having those tools. In this case, her nomination is well-deserved for injecting her character WITH a character.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not a terrible film. Quite obviously, I am in the minority as one of its detractors since critics and audiences seem moved by it. However, I must share my honest impression that this is a film I would typically embrace in theory, but felt disappointed by its execution. Perhaps it is the fact that this is a film about stasis, being stuck with what you have and having to make the best of it, that I found so unsatisfying? At any rate, I’d be interested in your opinions and discussing why the film does or does not work for you.