by Alan Yudman
It is going to be a challenge for the dude engraving the statues at the Oscars this year. How will he ever fit THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI on one of those tiny gold plates? He better start practicing, because this could be the best movie of 2017.
This tale of a mother’s search for justice is dark and funny. That doesn’t mean it cannot be poignant and moving too. It is the story of a mother played by Frances McDormand who deals with the grief over the rape, torture and murder of her teenaged daughter. We join the story seven months after the crime and there have been no arrests. McDormand’s Mildred decides the best way to motivate Ebbing’s police chief (Woody Harrelson) is to shame him with three enormous billboards that question why he isn’t doing anything to catch the killer.
The billboards polarize the town and what is left of Mildred’s family. But she is undaunted by any criticism or threats. And there are threats. Her chief protagonist isn’t the Chief, but one of his officers perfectly played by Sam Rockwell. He is paunchy, dumb, insensitive and brutal. There are references to his mistreatment of blacks in Ebbing, which a skillfully quick way to let the audience know what kind of man and cop he really is. Rockwell’s Dixon is quick tempered and achingly stupid. He’s the kind of cop that punches first and asks questions later. But of all the characters in the film, he is the one that has a defined arc that sees him grow behind himself. It’s a fabulous performance that should get Rockwell a much deserved Oscar nomination.
While McDormand’s Mildred doesn’t especially grow, but her achingly tortured performance is the heart of the film. She seems confident, but you also can see the confusion and grief just under the surface. It’s a part that seems to have been written with her in mind.
All of this wonderful acting would not be possible without a great script and perfect direction by Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES, SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, etc). I cannot find any holes in the story. There isn’t a hole to be found. And since he wrote it, McDonagh knew exactly how to put this perfect story on film.
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI sticks with you long after you leave the theater. And that is the highest compliment I can pay any piece of art. Because that is what art is supposed to do.. make you think and feel long after you’ve experienced it.