When I first heard about the movie Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri from my podcast co-host Fadra, I had little interest in seeing the movie. I admit to judging on first impressions and with the mouthful-of-a-title and the not-so-clear plot, I wrote this one off.
Then Fadra saw it and told me how excellent it was. Then the nominations and awards starting rolling in. It was time to see what this movie was all about.
If you want a quick overview, check out my 60-second movie review of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri:
Synopsis of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a recently divorced mother whose daughter was raped and murdered several months back. The investigation has gone cold and Mildred is frustrated by the lack of attention from the police. So she rents three billboards on a back road to make a statement to the town’s admired Chief of Police, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).
The billboards – painted bright red with black lettering – read:
Raped while dying
And still no arrests?
How come, Chief Willoughby?
You might think this movie is about solving a crime, but it’s not. Not at all. It’s about rage. It’s about how people deal with rage, how they act upon it, and what it does to their lives.
Besides Mildred, the other main character is Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a police officer suffering from a case of bad parenting. He has a ton of anger, he’s a racist, he’s a drunk, he’s not that smart, and his hick mother verbally abuses and manipulates him at every chance. When Mildred publicly targets the Chief – who happens to be one of the only people who sees any good in Dixon – Dixon fights back. And he fights dirty.
Spoilers and Reactions
Warning: Spoilers ahead!
As expected, the town reacts negatively to the billboards and Mildred has to deal with a lot of hostility. Her son is humiliated by her behavior, the police force feels unjustly targeted, and even the local pastor comes by to try to convince her to take the billboards down. And that scene with the pastor? Well, Mildred gives him a verbal spanking that will have you shocked and amused at the same time.
The injection of humor into a very dark story is extremely well done. Mildred’s quick wit and sharp tongue, along with Chief Willoughby’s charm, provide just the right amount of levity.
It was the unexpected character arcs in this movie that kept me from giving it a full-on five-star review. While we are led to see Mildred as the protagonist and Dixon as the antagonist, it’s almost as if they start to switch places by the end of the movie.
We know that Mildred is grieving and full of rage. But we understand more about the depth of her rage and how she treats people through her interaction with James (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf who she agrees to have dinner with after he provides her an alibi. I had a hard time understanding James’ purpose in the movie, other than throwing off Mildred’s character progression and making the viewer feel less sympathetic to her.
With Dixon, we start to see a redemption coming at the end, but we never totally get there.
I admit I like movies that are tied up neatly for the viewer, and this movie does not offer any resolution. It teases you a bit, then ultimately leaves you with this conclusion: “Life sucks. So just how mad should I be about it?”
Still, I wasn’t left feeling completely unsatisfied. Just uncomfortable. And that’s probably the point. It’s been said that everyone sees a different movie. And I think you can look no further than Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to demonstrate that.
The acting in this movie is phenomenal. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell give Oscar-worthy performances. McDormand can say more with one glance than a lot of actresses can with a whole monologue. Woody Harrelson also gives a poignant, charming performance.
Do I think you should see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri? Yes, definitely! This movie is powerful, moving, often funny, and extremely well-acted.