Three Billboards offers up a unique study of anger and how it clashes with kindness, even if that anger is directed in the right place. The main character is the fiery Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), whose daughter Angela was raped and burned alive a year before the events of the film. But, no arrests have been made by the known racist police department in Ebbing, Missouri relating to the case. Any moviegoer will automatically see that something doesn’t add up, as does Mildred. This prompts her to put up the titular three billboards that read: “Raped while dying?” “And still no arrests?” “How come Chief Willoughby?” The resulting fallout of Mildred’s explosive clash with the police department, the people of Ebbing, and her already broken family make up the film.
Rarely does a character so complex as Mildred Hayes grace the silver screen, and McDormand’s portrayal only enhances her character. Both in Ebbing and in the theater, all eyes are on Ms. Hayes. She curses, back talks, and punches her way through the winding story. Opposite her is the leader of the police department, Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson. Harrelson’s portrayal of Willoughby lends sympathy to the character, and the viewer questions to what extent Mildred’s anger should continue to hurt this man. The movie also brings in a slew of great performances by Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, and Lucas Hedges.
However, the story itself is what makes this movie great. Director and writer Martin McDonagh expertly plays with both common movie tropes and audience expectations, and subtly subverts them throughout the film. The movie is framed in such a way that the audience sides with Mildred from the start. But, as the movie progresses and more and more layers are revealed, the movie not only defies but punishes the viewer for picking a side. The movie makes viewers question why we as a people enjoy watching violence and bloodshed in our art. A central theme of the movie is that “anger begets greater anger,” and Three Billboards questions whether righteous anger can truly exist. And following the trend of recent movies, the ending is left ambiguous, but in a much more satisfying way than most open ended films.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a bittersweet portrayal of the destructive nature of revenge and anger, brought to life by a stellar cast and an amazing director. While it may be obscure, its Academy Award Nominations are well deserved, and I give it a 5/5.