Led by a powerhouse ensemble of somber yet sharp performances, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a testament that a masterful screenplay, heartfelt performances and a director who respects the simplistic veracity of the narrative’s premise is all that it takes to produce a classic.
The film follows the story of Mildred Hayes (McDormand) who has decided to put up three billboards expressing her frustration that the police officials of Ebbing, Missouri haven’t yet done an arrest for her dead daughter’s killer. This follows an array of circumstances that has put her disposition in jeopardy, unraveling political undertones of racism and abuse of authority.
The film’s screenplay is the biggest asset that it boasts. It’s exceptionally sharp, it’ll make you bleed. Despite its display of a discordant, gloomy atmosphere, it speaks grief subtly by interjecting wit and humor here and there, suggesting that a film about grieving needn’t necessarily to be about screaming and buckets of tears. It showed how simply a human being goes on with a life that still possesses the need of having to move on, despite being haunted by a past that hasn’t been given justice yet. It’s a grief-centric film that doesn’t take its theme literally. It shows many layers of human emotions other than what we already know. The minimalist approach of translating grief on screen is a great reminder of last year’s Manchester By the Sea, where director Kenneth Lonergan displayed the oxymoron of ferocity through his characters’ emotional vacancy.
Frances McDormand sure did deliver a superb performance. However, credit mostly goes to the screenplay. For the majority of the film, the screenplay somehow is on the driver’s seat whilst she was on the passenger’s side. Her lines are fierce and distinctly bold. But was it the best performance of any female actor throughout the year? I don’t think so. Oftentimes, her portrayal of Mildred Hayes felt one dimensional. I didn’t really get the chance to know her other than one fact: she wants justice for her dead daughter. I don’t think her performance was layered enough for me to truly sympathize. But I applaud her for bringing us to a place that is so rare — somewhere between grieving and acceptance. She didn’t go crazy about the fact that her daughter is dead; rather, she showed a post-momentum of what it feels like to face the facts, and search for the truth. McDormand took us to that gray area, wherein most actors just give us black or white. It was a very specific feeling that not all films can show us. But in all, she is fierce because her lines are fierce; as a character, I don’t see it resonating through the years as a performance to remember.
Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are both great foil characters that created a distinction of perspectives towards justice between officials and citizens. McDonagh’s creation of their worlds took us onto a rocky boat where everyone’s colliding due to the current of differences in belief and principles. Ultimately, the film gave a finale that expresses how hope can be achieved when a man of power and a citizen in need decide to settle feuds and differences, and work together. It didn’t give us a rainbow of happiness, as it clearly avoided the cliché route. But, it showed the infinite possibilites of changing the atmosphere through unity — something that is sound and relevant to our humanity’s climate today.
Overall, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is raw, sometimes quirky, and somberly emotional. Its specificity is assertive, and McDonagh’s direction is clean and respectful. Above all, it’s a clear collaboration of an actor and a writer. McDonagh knew how to propel his cast’s performances, and knew what he had to do to make them be as good as they are.