Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

The emotional connection between a mother and child is undoubtedly the strongest bond in nature. No quantum entanglement can match the interaction between this indelible linkage. I have personally been blessed with witnessing this bond form recently when my daughter gave birth to her first child. The movie, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, Is a poignant story that examines the amazing strength of maternal love and devotion. In a year where movies have broken box office records raking in billion-dollar profits for the studios, a film of this stature comes up on cinephiles quietly, apparently out of nowhere. Much of the attention paid by the media concentrated on the high-octane action/adventure movies many derived from the pages of comic books. It is true that the cinematic substance of this genre has improved to the point of qualifying many of these super hero films to rank among the best films of the year. Still, it remains an incredible experience to watch a movie crafted as a means of emotional expression. the story told by ‘Three Billboards’, dissects the most powerful emotions, hatred, prejudice, fear and love to produce a film that is enthralling, mesmerizing in its ability to capture the attention of the viewer and entirely command their full involvement in the lives and plights of the characters. It should come as little surprise that this film was produced by a division of a major studio devoted to providing deserved attention and recognition to independent films that would otherwise remain prominent only on the festival circuit. Fox Searchlight made it possible for the inciteful story to become nominated for the industry’s highest honors including four nominations for the upcoming Academy Awards. The movie studios have realized that there is a lucrative market for independent films. While that decision was predominantly financial the result is bringing movies like this that previously were only available in select art house theaters. Typical of such films the best nature of indies is represented here, a story driven by a deep, unblinking exploration of humanity.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a woman who is trying to survive an unimaginable pain, among the worse things possible. For any parent surviving your child is heart wrenching. As a mother Mildred is facing an impossible emotional trial, the rape and subsequent murder of her teenage daughter, Angela (Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), was assaulted seven months ago and the perpetrator has yet to be brought to face justice. It is only human to lash out, seeking an emotional outlet for the anguish that is crushing down. This understandably natural but when a psychological component present, the feelings are greatly exacerbated. In this instance Mildred is certain that the authorities have not been fully vested in doing their job is pursing the murderer. The epicenter of her rage is the town’s sheriff, Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), during the intervening seven months the investigation was stalled, no discernable progress was made heaping frustration on the already crushing grief and anger which has become Mildred’s life. Deprived of any sense of normalcy, Mildred expresses her dissatisfaction by renting three roadside billboards upon which the following statements:

  1. Raped While Dying
  2. And Still No Arrests?
  3. How Come, Chief Willoughby?

This expression of a grieving mother’s distain was not received well by the townsfolk especially the sheriff and his deputy. The citizens of Ebbing had concerns over the efficacy of the sheriff resulting from the open secret of his medical condition, pancreatic cancer. It was not possible to muster much trust in his officer. It was commonly known that Dixon was an alcoholic and raging racist. Chief Willoughby is not unsympathetic of Mildred’s desperation and anguish. Theirs’s is a small-town police force ill equipped for such a heinous crime. He considers the billboards as an unwarranted personal attack on his character. Dixon reacts in a way that belies the myopic and vindictive mindset of a man motivated solely by his hatred and prejudice, unable to directly attack a inconsolable mother he lashes out by attacking those close to her. The negative pressure brought to bear upon Mildred and her depressed son, Robbie (Lucas Hedges). Despite the mounting disapproval, Mildred remains unwavering on course, refusing to remove her public indictment shaming the complete lack of progress forwarding justice. The owner of the billboards, Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), is unduly pressured to remove the offending messages. Dixon’s campaign of intimidation then focuses on her close friend and co-worker, Denise (Amanda Warren) on trivial marijuana possession charges. The harassment is unrelenting as Mildred’s abusive ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes), escalates her burden by blaming her for the torture and death of their daughter.

The way in which Martin McDonagh manipulates the circumstances intertwining it with a richly detailed character development is exceedingly rare. His resume is terse with only two feature length films prior to this movie. His ‘Seven Psychopaths’ was an enigmatic masterpiece whose almost recursive narrative engages the audience completely. He goes into this award season already possessing an Oscar for Best Short Film, proving he can condense a story to the essentials as well as exploring the nuances in exceptional detail. Following the story as it unfolds reminded me of walking around in New York City’s Greenwich Village. The streets are set as if laid out at a tavern nearing closing time. They curve in occasionally crossing themselves is a delightfully wonderful maze. This film demands your complete attention. It is not for a casual afternoon viewing. Each frame contributes a crucial piece to the overall story, carefully crafted for maximum effect. This attention to details extends beyond the principle cast allowing the audience a realistic appreciation of the supporting characters. An example is an acquaintance of Mildred’s, James, magnificently portrayed by Peter Dinklage. One of the most sought-after journeyman character actors, Željko Ivanek, plays the Desk Sergeant at the police station. Mr. McDonagh can attract a selection of the finest artist the industry has for his projects. The inclusion of these details proves critical elements to motivating the characters and advancing the narrative. The Chief’s terminal diagnosis transitions into the resolution of the character allowing the organic infusion of his wife, Anne (Abbie Cornish), into this intriguing tapestry. It is nearly impossible to consider that Woody Harrelson became a familiar face to the public in a television sitcom, ‘Cheers’. He has matured into one pf the most intensely powerful actors of his generation. This opus is the epitome of the independent film reaffirming the need for telling a story for the sake of the cinematic expression as an artform. For all film aficionados in dire need of a respite from the special effects dependent movies saturated with imagery and audio that challenges the senses, this is a work of drama that will touch the viewer on an intimately human level.

Posted         03/03/2018

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