"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is directed by Martin McDonagh and it stars Frances McDormand as Mildred, a single mother who is coping with the loss of her teenage daughter who was violently raped and murdered. Mildred is unsatisfied with how the town police are handling the investigation, so she rents three billboards that basically call out the police chief, played by Woody Harrelson, and the rest of the movie is the fallout of her setting up these billboards as they draw a mixed response from the town, one that results in a power struggle between Mildred and the town police.
This was one of those movies that I was slightly aware of being released having occasionally seen the trailer play before a movie, but it was never a movie that I was dying to see. Then along comes my family tradition of seeing a movie on Thanksgiving night and this was the movie that we settled on, so now here's my review for a film that I didn't even know if I was going to see.
This movie is already garnering some awards buzz and part of that is because of the main cast. We have Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, and John Hawkes all giving stellar performances, the two performances most likely to snatch up some awards being those of McDormand and Rockwell. Frances McDormand plays a character in Mildred who rides a fine line of being unlikable, but you understand what she's gone through and you see why she's so bitter and frustrated towards everyone. It's a performance that's melancholy, but also one of determination.
To contrast that, you have Sam Rockwell playing an equally bitter cop with clearly bigoted tendencies and viewpoints. I've seen Rockwell give some great performances before, but I truly think this is the best one of his career so far. You're basically watching a person who's miserable and devoid of any empathy or logic, but you're also given insight as to why he's the way he is and what he's really trying to achieve, which leads me into my next praise for this movie.
The best thing this movie does is paint a picture for each character. You're given more than enough backstory and development for everyone and what results are characters who feel like real people rather than just black and white caricatures. Mildred isn't JUST a bitter mother, Sam Rockwell isn't JUST a stereotypical racist cop, and Woody Harrelson isn't JUST a stubborn police chief. Everyone is given some type of motivation or backstory and you really start to empathize with all of the main characters as the story moves along.
This movie also deserves praise for having an airtight script. Not only are the characters tremendously well developed, but the dialogue itself is very sharp. This is one of those movies that's driven purely by the dialogue and it's genuinely engaging to listen to. Some of the finest scenes in the entire movie are built squarely around a conversation between Mildred and some other character who may be trying to break her in some way, but she knows exactly how to deal with it and throw it right back in their face. It's psychological warfare between characters and it made for some very engaging moments.
My one flaw with this movie comes in the third act. It does involve some spoilers, so I'll just leave it like this: There comes a point where certain characters cross each other's paths and more than anything, it feels incredibly convenient for the plot. I understand that this movie is set in a small town, but I have a hard time believing that it's so small that various integral characters just happen to meet up right when the plot needs them to. This was the only portion of the film where it actually felt like a scripted movie rather than an interesting drama that could happen in real life.
Also, I have one VERY minor nitpick. Most of the performances in this movie are great, but one performance that sticks out like a sore thumb is that of Abbie Cornish. She plays Woody Harrelson's wife and while she's only in a few scenes, she has an incredibly distracting accent that seems to change every scene. In one scene she sounds British, but then in another she'll sound like she's trying to mix her British accent with a stereotypical southern accent. I have no idea what Cornish was trying to go for in terms of her accent, but whatever it was suppose to be was undeniably distracting.
All of that being said, "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is a well acted, well written drama that's engaging from a dialogue perspective and investing from a character perspective. I definitely recommend this movie to anyone who wants to see a more low-key film this Holiday so as to not deal with the hectic, kid-oriented crowds of something like "Coco". This movie is a major awards contender right now and I think it's worth the buzz it's receiving.
Rating: Full Price!