Although I saw “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” a while after its release, in the crush of work I was remiss not reviewing it at the time. It was one of the outstanding films of 2017, a compelling story about an irate mother determined to find the rapist and killer of her teenage daughter, something the police have failed to do—a mother who swings into action on her own with aggressive steps that make the film sizzle.
The superb Frances McDormand ignites the character of Mildred Hayes with a fierceness that unsettles the authorities. Renting three billboards along a road, she uses them for a challenging and needling protest—“Still No Arrests?,” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?,” “Raped While Dying.”
This brings her up against Willoughby, colorfully portrayed by Woody Harrelson, who tries to explain the effort going into solving the case and is increasingly troubled. Another top performance comes from Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a nasty, racist cop whom Mildred must overcome. Other characters flesh out the small town atmosphere in which Mildred wages her battle.
She can be a very mean person, riding roughshod over anyone who stands in her way. She is capable of endangering lives and of lying. But writer-director Martin McDonnagh also makes us sympathetic to her and appreciate her inner guilt feelings for having wished her daughter harm for going out against her wishes. We root for Mildred’s success no matter what she says or does. Her ultimate relationship with the cop played by Rockwell becomes an interesting and affecting development.
The story engrosses, with all of the plot twists and events, and the relationships that evolve with an aura of authenticity. It is as if we are placed in the town as spectators who know the characters involved. But above all, this is McDormand’s show, and she leaves a mark of having given one of the most fully realized character interpretations we have seen on screen recently, and an extremely tough one at that.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” clicks on all counts—screenplay, direction, acting and production values. A Fox Searchlight release. Reviewed March 5, 2018.