Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

At first glance, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) has all the ingredients to be a great film. Award-winning director? Check. Strong, talented cast? Check. Powerful storyline? Check. Yet having sat through the almost 2-hour screening, it is clear that Three Billboards is merely a dark comedy lacking a punchline. Much like the billboards themselves-which are strangely situated on a remote road to nowhere- many scenes and characters within the film seem similarly out of place and unnecessary to the storyline.

Both written and directed by Martin McDonagh – whose other commendable works include ‘In Bruges’ (2008) and ‘Seven Psychopaths’ (2012)-  it’s clear that despite not boasting the anticipated “based on a true story” by-line, the magnitude of important-yet-everyday issues explored throughout the 1-hour 55-minute film mean it very well could have been. As though the main plot, which follows the investigation of a young woman being raped whilst dying, wasn’t controversial enough the story progresses into a stream of sub-plots exploring various issues including: police corruption, racism and suicide- definitely not suitable for those who are easily offended by such topics.

These sinister undertones are established within the films opening sequence, which juxtaposes a high-pitch opera score with a lifeless, medium-long shot of the three neglected billboards. This clever use of cinematography and sound immediately highlights the importance of this location; whilst the solemn tone of the sequence foreshadows what is to come.

Starting in media-res, the audience is quickly introduced to the films protagonist Mildred (expertly played by Golden Globe Winner for Best Actress-Frances McDormand) who, after police fail to catch her daughter’s murderer, takes it upon herself to personally challenge their efforts and ensure her daughters case is not forgotten.

Along with McDormand, who gave a beautifully raw performance as Mildred- the sullen, sarcastic and strong-willed mother desperate for retribution- it is arguable that Sam Rockwell’s portrayal of Officer Dixon is equally as impressive. A complex role, in which Rockwell clearly utilizes his character’s racist, misogynistic and homophobic personality to show extent of his acting, skilfully manipulating the audience’s opinion towards his character as the story progresses and he transitions from villain to hero.

Despite some production issues, it’s undeniable that Three Billboards boasts a very strong cast of both well-established and budding actors. However other notable roles within the film include: Chief Willoughby- the spineless yet sincere police chief responsible for Mildred’s fury- played by Woody Harrelson and Caleb Landry Jones as Red Welby- a well-meaning trickster who mercifully helps lighten the mood of what would else be a very heavy, dark film.

Three Billboards takes you on a journey – despite never actually going anywhere- exploring both the best and worst of human kind; filled with inappropriate humour, ridiculous CGI and a lot of swearing- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri isn’t the mystery thriller you’d expect but purely for its talented acting and dedication to real-life issues it’s definitely worth a watch, even if it is just the once.