THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) Review: When Anger Creates Greater Anger

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is the kind of award film that I think people would actually enjoy and like. This film has just won a Golden Globe for Best Drama, which I kind of disagree—not because of its win (it totally deserves to win!), but because it’s actually very comedic and funny instead of being much of a ‘drama’ film. But it’s not just all fun and laugh, ‘though; it has a very specific premise that interestingly develops into a much broader dilemma of moral and self-value.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” (or in short Imma call it “Three Billboards”) is a story about, well, the three billboards placed outside a small town called Ebbing in Missouri, USA. Mildred Hayes (played by Frances McDormand, who also won a Golden Globe for this role) is an angry mother whose daughter was raped and burnt by a stranger. This tragedy never saw a light of getting solved, even after more than seven months since it happened. So she rented three billboards, which are situated close to each other, showing some controversial messages to challenge the local authorities to solve the case. These billboards read “Raped while Dying”, “And Still No Arrests?”, and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”. Chief Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson), which is Ebbing’s chief of police (and the only name mentioned in the billboard), was so infuriated by this action. He and his second-in-command Officer Dixon (played by Sam Rockwell, also won a Golden Globe for this role) traced down to the advertising company and of course to Mildred herself, igniting a real conflict not only among them but also among the people of the town.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

“Three Billboards” starts off with a very interesting premise, which kind of relates to all of us: a story where a victim of a crime does not seem to get a fair treatment by the law. Chief Willoughby and Officer Dixon, representing other police officers in Ebbing, were portrayed more as some kinds of bully instead of a law enforcer: Chief Willoughby is a ruthless man who suprisingly has many supporters in town (either because they are all a bully as well or because they are just afraid of him), while Dixon is a not-so-bright officer who still lives with his mom and loves to beat black people in town. They might seem like “the bad guys” of the film, while Mildred might be seen as the victim or “the good guy” here. But, as the film goes on, you will see that “Three Billboards” is not going to be a good-versus-bad film at all. The script, which was written by director Martin McDonagh, has so many layers in it that eventually creates a very good dilemma, and we viewers may then find it not so easily to take side on one character or another.

I like seeing how this interesting premise expanded into unprecedented directions. Many people in town, especially the black folks who equally received so many injustices from the police, saluted Mildred for her bravery to speak out. But many other people don’t like what Mildred did—because somehow they are good friends of Chief Willoughby and they saw him as a good leader (plus one other reason revealed around the midpart of the film, no spoiler!). Even Mildred’s son, Robbie (played by Lucas Hedges), does not like the billboards as well because he gets picked on at school and the billboards kind of reminded him again with the tragic event happened to his sister. There is even an involvement of media here, where local news channel created a report about the billboards showing as if the police has failed to solve the case. These many viewpoints about the billboards make “Three Billboards” really engaging to watch. I didn’t find it boring at all; I didn’t even check my watch to see if it’s gonna end or not.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Another thing that also makes “Three Billboards” so engaging is how all these viewpoints and dilemma were wrapped in such a way that makes it feel comedic and funny. Martin McDonagh is well known for his ‘devotion’ to black comedy: a film genre that creates a satirical humor out of a story that is generally considered tragic or sad. I don’t consider myself a big fan of black comedy (because as you already know, I’m an old, sad guy who just love sad movies being sad) and I really am not a fan of McDonagh’s previous works, but I got to admit that what he does in “Three Billboards” is great—both as a director and a screenwriter. I really found myself laughed so hard in many parts of the film, mostly due to the things that our characters did—especially Dixon. Sam Rockwell has yet again done a terrific performance, while Frances McDormand was simply the only actress that can perfectly portray such an angry and determined mom like Mildred.

Although I had some of the greatest laughters watching this film, these comedic parts are also where most of my problems about the film come from. Some parts were just made out of coincidents, and I kind of hate that. I mean, of course in real life coincidences do happen, but when you think deeper about the plot, these coincidences just seem too ugly to actually happen (I’m hinting at the orange juice scene with Dixon!). I also think that while “Three Billboards” gathered such a big ensemble cast with its many characters, some of these characters were just spoiled—as if they are there only to spice up the story. James (played by Peter Dinklage, who is generous and humble enough to accept such a self-demeaning role) was one of the key characters that just disappeared without further knowing. He might be so important delivering his duty to give some specific moments to the main characters like Mildred or Dixon, but that was it. Nothing more. With such a limited duration, not all of the characters can be told in details, of course, but… it kind of feels inconclusive, doesn’t it? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Despite its minor flaws, “Three Billboard” has succesfully become a film that relates closely to us. Many of us may feel like we are treated unfairly by some powerful people or by the law itself, and we feel so helpless about it. With a little bit of courage, I think what Mildred did has inspired us: while renting a billboard can be too pricey, speaking out in any way we can may perhaps shed a light to us—as long as we are sure that we are seeking for justice, not simply releasing our anger. Somehow, as the film said, anger can create a bigger anger. “Three Billboard” by Martin McDonagh has successfully delivered this thought in the most fun and comprehensible way. I think you’re gonna like it. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

4 out of 5 stars

2017 / Crime, Drama / 115 min / R

cast: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, et al.

written and directed by Martin McDonagh

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  2. Had me from the beginning. Always rooting for the mother to find what happened to her daughter. Watching the bad cop see the light and his willingness to find the culprit.

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