Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was a lot more interesting than I would realize. While the movie is nothing like the trailers would have you believe, it is a more textured and character driven film than anyone would admit. Martin McDonagh’s third outing bends what could be a paint-by-numbers movie about a mother looking for the murderer of her teenage daughter.
Francis McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, also in a role that is perfect for her, who believes that the local sheriff is not doing enough to catch her killer. In an effort to keep her daughters murder in the spotlight, she rents out three billboards that are on a lonely stretch of highway that no one travels down. Plastered on three separate billboards are the words: Raped While Dying; And Still No Arrests; How Come, Chief Willoughby?
Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, is not an inept police chief. He always looks for the good in people and even treats the critical Hayes with compassion and respect. Harrelson plays this character so effortlessly, it nearly makes you forget the complex characters he has played in the past. He is a delight to see on screen and is the balance that the film requires.
The knockout performance in the film comes from Sam Rockwell. Dixon is a more complex character than you are introduced to in the beginning. Utilizing the un-educated factor, Rockwell comes off as an incompetent, racist hot-head that is nearly a one-note character for this film. However, during the course of the story, he takes to heart the words of his mentor and begins to look further into the case that has been cold for months.
There are some other marvelous actors in this movie that deserved more screen time. Zeljko Ivanek as the desk sergeant brings depth and complexity for the short amount of time he has. Peter Dinklage’s performance of James is so dear and sweet, you wish he was utilized more. The rejection of his affection from Hayes grabs at your heart strings.
Lucas Hedges’ performance as Hayes’ son is a little difficult to pin down. He seems like the supportive son that his mother needs, but he is dealing with their tragedy in his own complex way. A personal favorite was Penelope, played by Samara Weaving. She brought in her own style of comedic relief that prevented the moments from getting too dark. She too the small role that she had and created a great character I wanted to see more of.
The film is strong in direction, characterization, score, and cinematography. It is possible to feel that the movie is about nothing, or goes off into many different directions. However, at the halfway point, the film begins to come together, and the characters reach their arcs. The film is not without consequence but moves the characters forward in emotional growth and complexity.