“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is the most recent effort of writer-director, Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths). Fans of his work will find his tongue-in-cheek approach to the storytelling highly enjoyable as they watch a mother’s unrelenting and extremely unrealistic technique to avenging her daughter’s death unfold on the screen. The acting is brilliant, but unfortunately the juxtaposition of over-the-top comedy with a very serious backstory requires audience members to check their emotions at the door if they intend to fully enjoy this ride.
The film opens on a peaceful and beautifully cinematic scene. Three roadside billboards stand alone in a field with scrapes of posters from years past blowing in the wind. Unfortunately, this is the most emotionally dramatic moment in the film. From here on out, we are witnesses to Mildred’s (Francis McDormand) take no prisoners approach to getting justice for her daughter’s death. It doesn’t matter that the Police Chief (Woody Harrelson), who is personally attacked on the billboards is dying of cancer, or that a violent, racist cop (Sam Rockwell) is hurting everyone who tries to help her. Nothing is going to stand in Mildred’s way, not even a fat, worthless dentist.
While the main driving force of the movie is the mother’s decision to call out local law enforcement, often the most entertaining scenes involve the townsfolk. The small town environment provides the perfect stage for an otherwise insignificant act of defiance to suddenly become the catalyst that destroys everyone’s lives. No one can avoid the drama and gossip because in a small town something this juicy attracts everyone, like flies to a pot of honey.
In the end, these billboards allow the town to take a good, hard look at itself and force Mildred to see the honest truth of what she has become as the town crumbles around her. Together, Ebbing and Mildred learn how to find the strength to move on. Life isn’t pretty or easy, but sometimes it can surprise you.
Viewers will find that while “Three Billboards” seriously lacks in relatablity, there are a lot of beautifully crafted layers to peel back. While on the surface, the characters appear to be standard archetypes, they are taken to an extreme and highly dynamic level that makes them feel fresh and new. In the end, even the harshest of critics will find that they can’t help but get sucked into the quirky and crazy small town that Martin McDonagh has created.