A fellow critic asked today what I saw in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The answer is that it shows the darkest shades of our souls and examines the pain and tortured anguish that colors them in. Frances McDormand plays a mother desperately looking for justice after her daughter is brutally murdered. Sam Rockwell in the role of an alcoholic racist deputy. Woody Harrelson as the sheriff confronted with his failures while facing his own mortality. All three performances are strong and Oscar worthy.
McDormand’s character, Mildred, lives every day in pain over her daughter’s murder, and the futility of the police investigation. So she rents three billboards and calls out the sheriff. In a small town it doesn’t take long for everyone to know about it and have an opinion. Mildred’s brutally honest wit is as powerful as the billboards. But she doesn’t mask her pain. Even in acerbic comments she lays bare her wounds.
Harrelson’s sheriff tries to talk her down (spoiler alert: he can’t). His racist drunk deputy takes matters into his own hands. Everyone has deep pain below the surface. Pain so strong it stunts them all emotionally. It is pain that this brilliant script explores without exploiting.
What makes the script, film, and performances so remarkable is how the characters grow in non-positive ways. The fact that we don’t want to admit that we still root for them says as much about ourselves as it does the characters. When it becomes clear that justice will not visit this small Missouri town any time soon, everything from suicide to vigilante justice become the order of the day.
This is a movie, which is one of my top two pics for the Oscar, that will make you rethink how you present yourself to the world, and haunt you long after the credits roll.
The Critic’s Cocktail Recommendation
Cheap Whisky, and lots of it.