Plot: Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a grieving, divorced mother who is still feeling the guilt over the rape and violent murder of her teenage daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) seven months earlier. Fed up and disgruntled by the lack of effort put in by the police to find Angela’s murderer, Mildred rents three billboards outside her home town that read, “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests,” “How come, Chief Willougby?” The Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) in question takes umbrage at the billboards, as does the rest of the town, but that only makes Mildred more driven.
Review: With his first two feature films Martin McDonagh mixed violence and comedy in such a hypnotic, grounded, and witty manner that audiences couldn’t help but be entranced by their swagger. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” contains all of the above. But with added pathos and the clear, distinct point of view of a woman taking charge in the face of male incompetence; one that American cinema has previously shunned for the most part, but which is currently making its voice heard across society.
For “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” the timeliness of its release feels purely coincidental, though, as everything that makes it so impactful comes from McDonagh’s pitch perfect writing and characterization and the long list of majestic performances from actors clearly reveling in the material provided to them. But the fact that the film deals with a rape and murder case being lackadaisically handled by a police more intent on violence gives the film a vigor and sharpness that stays with you for days. Especially because McDonagh builds the film to such a subtle but powerful crescendo that you’re left begging for more. It is so impactful that you instantly forgive its prior unevenness.
But while McDonagh is the conductor, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” really sings because of Frances McDormand, who is so utterly majestic, hilarious, heartfelt, dominant, and effective that not even those superlatives really do her justice. Basically, the Academy should just give McDormand her second Best Actress Oscars right now. Sam Rockwell is just as deserving, too, as is McDonagh, and cinematographer Ben Davis.
But “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” goes beyond mere shiny gongs and hoity-toity celebrations. As it will be still be talked about, dissected, and revered for years to come regardless.