Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Mad Mom


30 November 2017| No Comments on Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri     by Sean Chavel


Instantly grabbing. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens with a legitimately angry mother in Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) whose daughter was raped and murdered seven months earlier, renting out three billboards that will question the failure of the town’s Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), which sparks town controversy. “Raped By Dying,” is followed by “And still no arrests?” is followed by, “How come, Chief Willoughby?” Martin McDonagh, the playwright who went onto write and direct “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths,” has made a film a drama full of grief, no doubt, but it also has a strange humor to it and it toys with your emotions as well as toys with your expectations. We want a murder mystery, and we get one, but the film also has its own analog tune.

We learn Chief Willoughby is dying of cancer, and see he is also an upstanding man. He pays a visit to Willoughby, and his explanation as to why the case is a dead end with no leads is a plausible one. He gives a dearth reminder that unsolved cases after seven months usually end, if they come to a resolution, in dumb luck. Mildred’s billboards lights the ire of her son’s schoolmates, the town dentist and even a priest, for which there is a scene of Mildred telling off the priest in a most profoundly original way that is worth the price of admission itself. There is an anonymous donor to keep the billboard ads going, other advocates come forward, too. Others though want them billboards shut-down, from a too easily ill-tempered and racist cop (Sam Rockwell) to Mildred’s dirtbag ex-husband (John Hawkes). Mildred’s surviving son (Lucas Hedges of “Manchester By the Sea”) is heckled at school.

Chief Willoughby is a responsible person, but he’s not good with keeping members of his squad in check. The town’s police is known more for aggravating suspicious black folk for misdemeanors than they are following through on long open investigations. Rockwell, coming off as a belligerent one-note moron, has a role that continues to grow until his cliché role of the momma’s boy cop becomes far more invested and intriguing. He wants to fight for Chief Willoughby’s honor and that means destroying Mildred’s smear campaign, and when he commits some impulse violence he gets turn-in-your-badge repercussions. Which leads to him also wanting to immediately redeem himself, which also is reckless.

McDormand is blistering in her language in how she deals with all the town’s slothful men, and she is also playing the character very lived-in, carrying vengeance in her heart to the point where she’s harsh even with the innocent. It is likely going to win McDormand her second Oscar, the first one being for 1996’s “Fargo.” Rockwell and Harrelson are also superb. And amazingly, so is everybody else in the film down to the smallest roles. I haven’t mentioned Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Amanda Warren, Christopher Berry, or Clarke Peters or comes in as the interim police chief. I never use the word organic to describe a movie, but everybody here is believably connected to each other.

Riveting and multi-dimensional (and deliberately frustrating), “Three Billboards” doesn’t have the sounds or the beat of a normal murder mystery. It’s terribly terrific in misleading your expectations. It’s also a film that after it was over I found myself admiring it more than I found it gut-wrenching. Maybe that’s because the ending doesn’t want to show you Mildred going off the deep end. There’s plenty of food for thought here nonetheless. Hey, these billboards upset some people and everybody’s losing the heads over it. What is this film ultimately about, you wonder? People try to validate themselves while they make bad choices. Bad choices lead to other bad choices, and eventually it calls attention to itself in one way or another.


115 Minutes. Rated R.


Film Cousins: “Don’t Look Now” (1973); “Lone Star” (1996); “The Pledge” (2001); “In the Valley of Elah” (2007).

Three Billboards Outside_Ebbing_Missouri Post_FlickMinute - 2017

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.


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