Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the latest film from foul-mouthed anarchist writer/director Martin McDonagh. It became a massive awards contender this year and rightfully took home the Best Actress statuette for Frances McDormand and a Supporting Actor prize for Sam Rockwell. The film also got embroiled in the most absurd kind of PC controversy over the fact that Rockwell’s character is more complex than just being a racist bad guy!
McDormand, who everybody has loved since Blood Simple, rarely gets the roles she deserve—but also is the kind of the actress who is never going to do some thankless role. She met McDonagh on Broadway years previously, and did something she swore she wouldn’t (because she is married to Joel Coen). She actually asked McDonagh to write her something. Years later he wrote the extremely complex and interesting role of Mildred Hayes, whose daughter is brutally murdered and raped. In an act of revenge against the incompetent police force, she puts up the three billboards of the title, stating the very unsubtle “RAPED WHILE DYING,” “STILL NO ARRESTS?,” and “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”.
The police force is headed by Chief Willoughby, who is played by the always great Woody Harrelson. Like pretty much every actor in the film, he can make the phone book interesting. Sam Rockwell is Jason Dixon, a dumbfuck good old boy who just scraped through police school and is a racist, alcoholic buffoon. Later on the film his character has what some have unfairly misread as a “redemption arc,” but in reality it’s just showing that despite being abhorrent, his character may have some redeeming qualities. To some this seemed insensitive and “racist” in some bizarre way. McDonagh is simply showing that people are complex and not 100% black and white, which somehow his character should’ve been!
McDonagh is a great writer who perfectly captures Southern small-town America. He started coming up with the initial idea of the film after he took a cross-country trip through the states, where he did see three billboards that were very similar to the ones depicted in the film. His bitter black humour is throughout, with plenty of lines that shall not be spoken in the presence of polite company. He is very much an equal opportunity offender, although you can tell from the get-go it’s never demeaning or laughing at minorities, whether it’s black people or little people, etc., and I highly doubt Peter Dinklage would have a role in the film if it was actually offensive to little people.
The film is a testament to the strength of McDonagh’s writing, but he is also a solid visual stylist, intensified with a great long take involving Rockwell’s Dixon throwing somebody out of a window after coming from the building across the street. McDormand is always fantastic, but she hasn’t had a role this meaty since her last Oscar (another richly deserved win) for Fargo over 20 years ago. You could say Mildred Hayes is the perfect feminist hero in the post-TimesUp era, because she takes everything into her own hands and doesn’t use the victimization card. The rest of the supporting cast including John Hawkes, Caleb Landry Jones (who I’ve warmed to as an actor in the last year), Željko Ivanek and Lucas Hedges, who like the rest of the cast rarely put a foot wrong.
The disc includes a solid making-of feature, which is a bit more in-depth than the usual kind of EPK fluff, some deleted scenes and McDonagh’s award-winning and brutally funny short film Six-Shooter.