THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is bigger than life
Anger begets anger and one simple, if expensive, act of defiance spirals a small town into one escalation after another. In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, everyone has an inner war they’re fighting that no one knows about, or knows but doesn’t care.
Mildred (Frances McDormand) is frustrated at the slow progress of the investigation into her daughter’s rape and murder. She purchases three billboards off a small rural road taunting the local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) into action. The billboards spur Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) to act in ways unbecoming a man of law, but his home situation highlights his mindset. Mildred is intimidated, not just by the law, but by her ex-husband, and the way her son (Lucas Hedges) is treated in school. The townsfolk are also quite chummy with the law. The intimation is spread around, as Dixon, who only seems smart enough to not blow his own foot off, handles the situation the way all cowards do – indirect attacks and felony assault. Only Sheriff Willoughby seems genuinely bothered by the lack of progress and he takes Mildred’s billboards personally but he has his own battle he’s almost not fighting.
Three Billboards is dark and uncomfortably funny; it highlights the rural towns in a way that urban folk like to pretend does not exist. Racism, domestic violence, and the abundance of destructive behavior turn neighbor against neighbor. Even if you can’t fully stand behind the billboards, you can only admire Mildred’s strength and resolve as she faces this completely alone. She’s done taking garbage from almost everyone, and she plans on seeing this through to the end.
Underneath it all, though, is a tale of redemption. The center of this tale is murder, but everything that happens after is perpetuated by someone’s raw emotions. Arrests, arson, assaults – the aftermath of people forgetting to be civil becomes a shockwave of regret. Like Mildred, you too need to see this one through to the end, and you want to know what happens next.
This is where we’ll call out the players for their individual contributions:
Caleb Landry Jones for the not-quite-big-city ad salesman who has just enough slick and savvy to sell; a deflector, yet still a decent human being – more than anyone deserves.
Sandy Martin as Mama Dixon, a hard-drinking, fierce protector and enabler of her son. She’d run you down with her car if she could find her legs after drinking.
Peter Dinklage as James, who has a raging crush on Mildred. He wants to be her rock but she may be too damaged to make it work.
Samara Weaving as Penelope, the only bulb dimmer than Dixon who offers pithy and poignant ponderings, even if she has zero idea what they mean.
I enjoyed this movie far more than I would have thought. I liked that there wasn’t a bucolic small town where everyone got along. I enjoyed seeing a small town where not everyone lived in trailers and spit tobacco. Everyone in their own racist, misogynistic and unsympathetic way manages to be a fully-fleshed human dealing with the crap-show of everyday nightmares. It’s a horror with clever laughs and unexpected brevity.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is Rated R for language, a few guys getting the crap beat out of them, not so subtle racism, and a lot of drinking.