Martin McDonagh may be a director from Ireland, but it is eerie how he has crafted a film about America that is so timely with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It deals with a woman starting a rampage against a patriarchal society which could easily mirror how women are standing up to the male-dominated Hollywood in the midst of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. There’s a line that the main character gives about how the police are “too busy torturing black folks to solve actual crimes” which is a demonstration of the ongoing nationwide issue of police brutality against minorities. Lastly, the anger that our main character feels reflects the anger and fear that citizens fearing for their human rights in the Trump era feel. The uncanny timeliness of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is what makes it the most important film of the year and both its livewire performances and darkly comic tone make it one of the best of the year.
After seven months have passed without the culprit of her daughter’s killer being caught, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) takes matters into own hands by painting three signs on three billboards directed at the chief of police, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), asking him why he hasn’t found the killer. Mildred’s billboards begin to spark a chaotic war between her and those around her including her ex-husband (John Hawkes) and a local policeman named Office Dixon (Sam Rockwell).
Anger is a prominent theme in Three Billboards and it is perfectly captured by Frances McDormand’s absolute firecracker of a performance. As Mildred Hayes, McDormand chews through Martin McDonagh’s biting dialogue like its nothing and can go from feelings of anger to sorrow and denial within seconds. While Mildred may serve as an audience surrogate, she is not without her flaws. Despite her loving her daughter immensely, she has trouble accepting how she kept pushing her away. McDormand manages to deliver her best work since Fargo and surely, she will garner Oscar attention.
As great as she is, though, Sam Rockwell is a scene stealer as prejudiced momma’s boy Officer Dixon. Despite his character possessing bigoted views, Rockwell portrays him as a simpleton who’s also a product of his close-minded environment and, out of all the actors, he is mostly in sync with the film’s darkly comical tone. The always reliable Woody Harrelson is terrific as well as Chief Willoughby, the voice of reason who tries to get through to Mildred to the point where he reveals he is dying of cancer to convince her to show more sympathy. The rest of the supporting cast; John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones, and Peter Dinklage, are aces as well.
Despite there being moments where the film’s darkly funny tone becomes unsure of itself, Martin McDonagh still lets the comedy shine through in his profanity-laced dialogue and lets the situation at hand demonstrate the drama. The film may depict the characters angrily throwing people out of windows or lighting Molotov cocktails and throwing them at buildings. Yet, it is still the whole idea. Three Billboards is meant to show what happens when we resort to violence rather than communication to find a solution. Even if we feel anger and frustration, burning cars and brutalizing other people doesn’t solve our problems any faster.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a sharp and powerful character study that is also a film that America needs right now. It is a reminder that it is normal to feel anger but we cannot resort to violence. We shouldn’t have any blood on their hands the way that those we are rebelling against do. The world may be an unkind and cruel place but that doesn’t mean we have to be.