When the murder of her daughter goes unsolved, Mildred (Frances McDormand) hires three billboards outside her home town to express her frustration. A move that polarises the town of Ebbing, Missouri and pits the entire police department against her - especially the infamous Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). It's a story of pain that comes from a lack of closure, from being denied justice. Despite her good intentions, Mildred's actions start to have a detrimental effects on all those around her, including her son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) and Police Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a darkly comedic tragedy from the man who brought us In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths.
Writer/Director Martin McDonagh was inspired to write this story when - while travelling - he spotted three billboards reporting an unsolved crime. According to the director "the rage that put a bunch of billboards like that up was palpable and stayed with me." Settling on the idea that it was a mother who was responsible for putting up those billboards, he began writing the script with both Frances McDormand in mind for the role of Mildred and Sam Rockwell for Officer Dixon. And even without seeing the movie it's easy to see why. Both are brilliant actors with incredible range and versatility, they bring so much to these very grounded, three dimensional characters.
McDormand portrays Mildred's grief and anger beautifully. Her mission is her way of dealing with all that pain. At first, Dixon comes across as an angry, racist, idiot, but it becomes apparent that there is more to him than that. Chief Willoughby is a man dealing with a lot more than just an unsolved murder, and through Harrelson's performance you can see how all of it weighs on him. The rest of the town folk, played by a tremendous supporting cast - including Caleb Landry Jones, Peter Dinklage, Clarke Peters and Željko Ivanek - are left divided by Mildred's actions, and people on both sides suffer because of them.
Whereas McDonagh's previous projects had a slightly surreal feel to them, Three Billboards is more grounded in reality. Filmed in Sylva, North Carolina, it's a truly powerful story that deals with themes of death, the pain of loss and not knowing realistically and respectfully. The same black comedy we saw in In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths is definitely present. But the characters aren't as whacky. Mildred may go to the extreme, but it's easy to imagine any parent in her situation fighting for answers. In fact, all three of the main characters have some very difficult decisions to make, and they're not always the ones who have to deal with the consequences.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been nominated for seven Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Actress and twice for Best Supporting Actor. It's an incredible tale, beautifully shot by a director who knows how to get the best performances from his entire cast. And the result of combining this unique brand of black comedy with such a deeply tragic story is - oddly enough - a very funny movie...even when it shouldn't be.
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