Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Is a Masterpiece

Updated on December 25, 2017
Rami Nawfal profile image

Rami has a BA in psychology from the American University of Beirut and an MS in addiction counseling from Grand Canyon University.

I remember Ian McKinley from Final Destination 3 making an accurate point about the inequality of life and death at the funeral of two female classmates of his that were burned alive in a tanning booth freak accident. He notes that serial killers, prominent terrorists, politicians, and other evildoers still live to old age while those two innocent girls didn’t even live to see their 18th birthdays. The world is undoubtedly an upside down and rotten place where evil triumphs over good in a myriad of ways, and the natural response of a logical person is to be angry at these grand injustices that we’re practically powerless over. Hollywood many times over has preached the hazards of fury and the importance of empathy and understanding. However, the latter’s easier said than done. Brian Tellerico, contributing to the late Roger Ebert’s website, asserts that furious laments at injustice must be made in order for empathy and understanding to emerge, noting that raw emotion is a conduit to a better comprehension of how the world works and I believe this is what Three Billboards is all about.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a divorced single mother who is rather difficult to be around through no fault of her own. Seven months have elapsed since her teenage daughter Angela was beaten, raped and burned alive, with zero arrests made by the Ebbing P.D. Taking matters into her own hands, Mildred rents out three unused billboards outside her town and plasters a controversial message aimed at Ebbing’s esteemed police chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), questioning his competence. The battle is only aggravated when Willoughby’s violent, racist deputy Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) gets involved.

I believe a screenwriting Academy Award is in order for writer/director Martin McDonaugh. His impeccably penned script laden with insightful discourse centers in on his characters’ perspectives on life; their convictions and personalities molded by the environment that they grew up in. Three Billboards is a tale of bereavement, culpability, and redemption that is astutely articulated within the milieu of a lugubriously comical world delineated by hopelessness, police brutality, poverty, and moral hypocrisy coming from all sides. The film’s thematic linchpin is grief and its influence on the human train of thought as loss fuels the protagonists’ ideologies and the actions they undertake, whether for character development or plot advancement.

I bet if you, dear reader, were in Mildred’s unfortunate situation, the overwhelming grief will provide you with a newfound pessimistic outlook on things. I personally believe that pessimists possess substantially more accurate perceptions than optimists; Mildred’s tirades are veracious, quite factual, and are most certainly justified when she has to deal with bigoted, hotheaded, and distasteful cops like Dixon who are more interested in brutalizing ethnic minorities and giving her a hard time rather than working diligently to find the perpetrator. That being said, Three Billboards emphatically refuses to be a hackneyed, monochromatic indictment of crooked law enforcers. Chief Willoughby’s interactions with Mildred reveal him to be quite a levelheaded person with valid reasons as to why no suspects are in custody, and scenes of his family life depict him as a loving husband and father; a human being coping with the pressure of his job and distraught by another problem of his which I shan’t be divulging. Three Billboards in turn is as much a condemnation of police incompetence as it is an acknowledgement of their strenuous job, especially when it comes to homicide cases.

Three Billboards has some anarchist undercurrents. We strangely find ourselves vigorously rooting for Mildred even though some of her actions are quite impetuous, sympathy-draining, and bound to beget all sorts of negative repercussions onto herself and her family. Moreover, I believe this film implies that certain sets of laws and questionable protocol serve as an impediment to true justice, even when the police competently do their job. In a way Three Billboards somewhat lionizes the idea of taking matters into one’s own hands as it appears on screen to be an effective method of getting things done. Simultaneously, Three Billboards’ ambiguous ending encourages the viewers to question how far they’re truly willing to go in that regard.

The cast is outstanding and worthy of a standing ovation as they lit the fuse of Martin McDonaugh’s dynamite script. Frances McDormand puts on a phenomenal powerhouse of a performance that might just earn her another coveted golden statue. With McDormand’s commanding screen presence and absolute sincerity behind those eyes, she valiantly defies the audiences to love her character in spite of her shortcomings. The result is a resounding success because what viewers end up seeing is an indomitable spirit with vulnerabilities just like everybody else. Sam Rockwell’s superb performance as the dimwitted mama’s-boy deputy Dixon is further proof of his versatility and aptitude as an actor. Woody Harrelson knocks it out of the park as Chief Willoughby; he plays a rigid person with a hefty dose of sadness. Lucas Hedges plays Mildred’s son Robbie with prudent grace, signaling to viewers the hardship of dealing with his mother.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a thoroughly complex, relevant, superbly written, and phenomenally acted masterpiece that easily ranks in the top tier of 2017’s finest films. It fortifies the radical belief that my limited life on this planet is incomplete without films. Whatever your schedule, please make the time for a trip to the cinema to see exactly what I mean. Martin McDonaugh, do take a bow, you’ve earned it.

My score: 10/10

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