4 stars for ‘Three Billboards’


Love, loss and redemption. Three themes tackled in all of Director Martin McDonagh’s work.

In “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” McDonagh holds focus on Mildred Hayes, mother to a daughter who was recently held victim to rape and murder.

To call attention to her daughter’s case after months of no arrests, Mildred, played by Frances McDormand, puts up three billboards calling out Police Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson.

The film follows these and other characters in the small town as Mildred seeks vengeance for her daughter’s death.

The film plays off of the unexpected.

You sit and you watch and you expect certain things from a classic revenge plot.

You get nothing like that.

Each character is meticulously woven into the story with great respect and care.

Mildred, the presumed hero of the story, is flawed – she drinks, she smokes, she cusses (at children, news reporters, priests, etc.)

She goes against the town and Willoughby even though he is highly respected for his hard work and diligence.

She is bold and bull-headed; she will not stop until she reaches some sort of conclusion.

Even when her son, played by Lucas Hedges, complains about the torment and trauma that the graphically-worded billboards bring back, there is not a moment of remorse.

She is driven by her love and her anger for both the culprits that raped, killed and burned her daughter, and herself.

In a heart-breaking flashback, it is revealed that Mildred had gotten into a fight with her daugther just hours before she was abducted. With their argument ending on a worse-than-morbid note, it is clear the extreme weight that Mildred carries with her each day.

She makes this weight something the town should carry as well.

She is unimpressed with the work the police have done and even comments on air that if the police weren’t too busy abusing black folks that maybe they would have found the killer by now.

Enter Officer Dixon, played by a scene-stealing, Oscar-nom worthy Sam Rockwell.

With an unclear back story, Officer Dixon is violent and racist.

It is alluded to multiple times that he is the one that “abused black folks.”

He is way too aggressive, easily angry and reads comic books.

His maturity and growth have been stunted by his mother and having lived with her his whole life.

He is not very good with words and drinks constantly.

It is this aspect of the film that surprised me the most.

With such a dislikable characters (one who frequently uses the n word and walks like a large baby) I was moved by the amount of respect shown by McDonagh.

Dixon is not framed to be hated, or the villain, rather he is a person, with flaws, like us all.

He is vulnerable and heartfelt but just has his head in the wrong place.

It is clear that he wants to be a good cop and do the right thing but he is overly aggressive and blinded by his mother and her advice.

There is something lost in his life, whether it be common sense, his sense of purpose or simply his father – he is damaged by a missing link.

It is not until he suffers a great loss (in the run-time of the movie) where he hits his breaking point.

Chief Willoughby, on top of dealing with the three billboards, is battling terminal cancer.

With fear of wasting his final days, he puts himself to work.

The sympathy in a movie that would come when  an announcement of cancer is made is completely stripped.

When first confronting Mildred about the billboards, Willoughby mentions his condition and it is met with a cold, “I know that, hell the whole town knows that.”

Willoughby, letting himself be completely vulnerable, is heart broken at her response, but it instilled in him this confidence that keeps him from feeling sorry for himself.

He remains strong for himself, his family and for Mildred.

Woody Harrelson, like in most of his work, is lovable and funny.

You care about him, but you also want to see Mildred win, which is why the movie is so magnificent.

You can’t help but want to see what happens next, what else will be pulled out of the bag in the fictional town of Ebbing, Missouri.

The score for the film was done by Carter Burwell, an alum of the great Coen Brothers as well as previous McDonagh movies.

The epic western sounds carry and flow throughout the scenes that add another layer of heaviness to your heart as you watch the film unfold.

By the end of the picture, you too are now vulnerable, like Mildred, Willoughby and Dixon.