By Brad Haynes
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
★★★★ out of ★★★★
Irish playwright Martin McDonagh made his first venture into film with the dark comedy In Bruges. The film had a style all its own, and the language, beautifully crafted by McDonagh, was perfection. Now, with his third film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh has created what will surely become an American classic.
After 7 months of no progress in the rape and murder investigation of her teenage daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand, in an explosive performance) rents three billboards asking the question, “How come Chief Willoughby?”
Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s affable police chief, is alerted to the billboards by his seemingly racist, mama’s boy of an employee, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell, in one of the best male performances of the year).
The billboards set the small fictional Missouri town into a whirlwind of controversy, as Mildred won’t just stop with the billboards in her crusade to find justice for her daughter, and hopefully relieve her grief.
McDonagh has made a film that shifts tone so gracefully, you don’t even realize it has happened. From laughter to tears, and everything in between, Three Billboards pushes all of your emotional buttons, and yet is in no way manipulative. And while much of the credit here must go to writer/director McDonagh, the top-notch team of actors he has assembled are brilliant.
As wily billboard proprietor Red Welby, Caleb Landry Jones shines in his best performance to date. Equally good is Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s surviving child, who somehow manages living with a parent who is close to completely losing it. And Peter Dinklage as a diminutive suitor of Mildred’s is both funny and heartbreaking.
Harrelson once again shows what a strong actor he is with the role of Chief Willoughby. It’s a complex role, and Harrelson plays each and every nuance beautifully.
But the two performances in the film that are master classes in acting belong to McDormand and Rockwell. As Mildred, McDormand burns up the screen with her rage. You may not agree with many of Mildred’s decisions, but as played by McDormand, you can see they are the only choices for her at the time.
And Rockwell is simply astounding as the officer that he has described in interviews as a cross between Barney Fife and Travis Bickle. Watching Rockwell’s character evolve throughout the film is an amazing thing to see. Oscar noms for both McDormand and Rockwell seem like sure things.
It’s a tough film, with incredibly strong language throughout, and little to no sense of “political correctness” to it. But a trip to Ebbing, Missouri, even for a few short hours, is definitely worth the ride.
The Good: The performances are incredible all around, but McDormand and Rockwell are simply amazing. When they are on screen you can never be sure what will happen next.
The Bad: Few negatives here, although some of the situations seem highly contrived and there are still a few lingering questions at the close of the film.
Final Word: Writer/director Martin McDonagh (who is Irish by the way) has come up with a new American classic.
Starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Caleb Landry Jones. Directed by Martin McDonagh.
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references