“Is it worth paying for a ticket?”: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

In an effort to track down who raped and murdered her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has three billboards erected outside her town of Ebbing, Missouri. They accuse the Sheriff (Woody Harrelson) of doing nothing to catch the killer. This causes a largely adverse reaction amongst the town’s folk , not least one of the sheriff’s deputies, the hot-headed, irascible Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell). (source)

Oscar favourite Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017, dir. Martin McDonagh) has received a lot of hype. It received a lot of positive attention at the Golden Globe Awards, a lot of Oscar nominations, everyone knows Frances McDormand is a superstar, the cast is fantastic, and director slash writer Martin McDonagh is known for his quick tongue and wit in the face of the bleak circumstances of his films. But, does the film live up to this immense hype that it’s carried since its release?

It must firstly be said that this is a piece of work where Frances McDormand is provided the opportunity to shine her brightest. I love her. Her snarling portrayal of an angry, vengeful woman who just wants justice for her daughter is captivating. In Three Billboards, she more than earns her Oscar nomination. This performance is supported nicely by Woody Harrelson, portraying a Police Chief who’s at the end of his tether both emotionally and physically. Whilst some aspects of this character’s story seemed super contrived and unnecessary, you can’t go past Harrelson if you want to comfortably watch an exasperated police officer trying to do their job (see also: True Detective). Sam Rockwell is a surprise highlight as well, as a sexist, racist, homophobic piece of work attempting to be a policeman but failing spectacularly. He gets his redemption arc, but it came a little too late for me. Still, watching Rockwell in anything is always a treat. There’s a nice cameo from Peter Dinklage as well, although I’m a little bothered by Martin McDonagh’s obsession with including dwarves in his films in a tokenistic manner. McDonagh’s direction is also nice, but nothing to write home about.

However… is it just me or is this not that great? I need to clarify that I really didn’t like Martin McDonagh’s 2008 outing In Brugesand although I never reviewed it, I didn’t like Seven Psychopaths (2012) either. The big problem with Three Billboards, which was also evident in In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, is that the film’s tonal shifts are extremely jarring. Three Billboards operates within numerous genres – drama, comedy, dramedy, dark comedy, crime drama, whatever else you want to call it – that what results is somewhat of a mess of different tones, which probably could have been executed better. Dark comedy can obviously be done extremely well (and has been done well a million times before), where darker moments are seamlessly integrated into the comedic experience and you feel bad for laughing but not really. But with this, it felt either funny or bleak, with little transition to help it along. Sure, I felt bad for laughing when Frances McDormand kicked a school girl right in the crotch. But that too (amongst other moments) was an odd slapstick moment that felt more like a slap in the face. I hoped the dark comedy experience of Three Billboards might be more seamlessly integrated, particularly given the central story of the film which probably could have been an effective pure drama anyway. But that isn’t the experience I had. I think Martin McDonagh is just not for me.

Ultimately, whilst Three Billboards was an enjoyable watch in the cinema, it was a frustrating experience by its conclusion, with an ending that left much to be desired (no spoilers here). The central story is compelling and interesting, and I wanted to see justice happen just as much as Mildred Hayes did. But this story kept getting waylaid by McDonagh’s writing style and attempts at dark comedy which did not work for me. It’s messy, with a rage that feels incoherent at times as a result. Three Billboards is up for a lot of Oscars, and some of those are extremely deserved. But not all of them. Best film? I’m not so sure.

Is it worth paying for a ticket?: Not really, unless you like collecting Oscar-nominated films like Pokémon cards.
Watch the trailer here.

16 comments

  1. I had a completely opposite reaction to this film. I felt the comedy and the funny dialogue came naturally from the characters who are everyday crazy, driven to acts of anger and desperation through the actions of those around them. The second half was not that funny but it was more serious as we have to face the consequences of toxic things like anger and male violence. The focus on anger then allowed the film to question its value and we see the characters gradually overcoming it in their different arcs as they change their actions.

    1. I feel like Three Billboards was somewhat divisive! I’ve seen a lot of love and a lot of dislike for it and not a lot of grey in between. Frances McDormand was so amazing but it just didn’t gel with me.

  2. Yeah, it didn’t completely win me over either

    1. I mean, Frances McDormand was amazing. But the whole film? It was alright, but not great.

  3. Such a brilliant concept. And yes, the acting is just superb. What would be your vote for best film?

    1. I want Get Out to win, but it probably won’t! What’s your pick?

      1. That would be a good choice. I did like Dunkirk a lot. That would get my vote.

        1. I haven’t even seen Dunkirk! I’m so behind.

          1. You have to! A huge fan of it. And the soundtrack is incredible!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  4. I completely agree with your review…as this film marches toward Oscar victory, I shake my head – without giving anything away, the motivations of the characters is all over the place, I found it difficult to feel sympathy for anyone based on their actions, and the obvious nature of some of the things that happen were off-putting and forced…for me, “The Shape Of Water” or “Lady Bird” are the two best films of the year, with “Get Out” and “I, Tonya” close behind…

    1. I can’t wait to see Lady Bird and The Shape of Water! I,Tonya and Get Out were also amazing. For me, it’s a close race between Frances McDormand and Margot Robbie for Best Actress.

      1. This year’s Best Actress race is amazing – Saoirse Ronan and Sally Hawkins are both incredible as well – if Frances doesn’t win, it could be in part to her SAG Awards speech where she pleaded for voters to “give someone else a doorstop” or words to that effect – she wants to honor the next generation….but all performances are worthy!

  5. I’ve spent some of today talking to friends in work about this film (a visitor apologised for breaking up the conversation, haha) and they had a similar reaction to you, especially over the ending.

    It’s a good drama with interesting characters. It doesn’t approach Fargo but it is really relevant for today’s conversations with dialogue that gets to the heart of various problems. We agreed that Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell put in excellent performances.

    Have you tried Memories of Murder?

    1. I haven’t seen Memories of Murder but I love Bong Joon-ho! Have added to my watchlist. 🙂

  6. […] Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) […]

  7. Couchfims · · Reply

    Consequences and more consequences are what makes this film cathartic and entertaining.

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