Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri… is set seven months after the brutal rape and murder of Angela Hayes. Angela’s mother Mildred (McDormand) has grown tired of the Police’s lack of progress and decides she will force them to refocus on the case. Mildred rents out three giant billboards and writes a very pointed message at the Chief of Police (Harrelson). This message causes an uproar throughout the town, with people both supporting and condemning Mildred for her actions.
Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes is an absolute firecracker of a performance. Her face constantly bent in a scowl, Mildred has no filters, and calls it as she sees. Nothing and no one escapes her fury when she sets her sights. She takes on the Police, Dentists, the Church, and even teenagers. McDormand commands every scene, and has never been funnier, especially when she is stringing profanities together in a way I hadn’t thought possible. However, Mildred is racked with grief and sorrow, and McDormand absolutely nails these moments. You really feel for her character, even when she is ripping into someone else. She is a woman on a mission, and is prepared to see it through no matter the consequences.
The very large supporting cast, led by Woody Harrelson and Same Rockwell, also give top notch performances . Harrelson plays Chief Willoughby, the main object of Mildred’s attacks. Willoughby is first introduced to us as a tough intimidator, someone to be feared, but as we get to know more about the man behind the badge, and the pressures he faces. He tries to calm Mildred’s rage numerous different ways, and watching these two lock horns is always entertaining.
Sam Rockwell plays Dixon, a police officer with a long and public history of racially motivated abuses. He is a hot head, who despite wanting to be a good police officer just can’t reel himself back in at times. He acts first, apologizes second, and thinks never. Dixon pushes every bit of acting talent out of Rockwell, as the character is at times grisly and unlikable (an understatement), but also the source of some of the most comedic scenes.
The rest of the cast is rounded out with excellent performances from Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, and John Hawkes.
Martin McDonagh has long been criticized for the way he’s written female characters in the past. However with Three Billboards…, McDonagh may have written one of the best female characters all year. Mildred is a sympathetic fighter, wearing a jumpsuit and bandana like army fatigues. But you always get the feeling that her fury is one comment away from taking over.
McDonagh has proven in his last two films, In Bruges, and Seven Psychopaths, that he enjoys subverting drama tropes. Three Billboards…, is framed as a police procedural, but instead of a whodunit, we are treated to a back and forth chess match between the Police and Mildred. Walking that line between not being so funny it’s not serious, but also not so serious that it can’t be funny, Three Billboards…, finds the perfect balance. Recently winning the Best Screenplay Award at the Venice Film Festival, Three Billboards…, is sharp, witty, frightening, but always surprising in the best way.