Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Razor sharp humour juxtaposed against stark and sobering emotional pain, Three Billboards is a must see.

Those of you familiar with the works of writer and director Martin McDonagh will know what to expect from this film; twisted, wicked humour, set against a backdrop of sheer, unimaginable emotional anguish.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri centres around protagonist Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), the mother of a daughter that was brutally murdered seven months prior. Deep in the throes of grief and frustrated at a lack of arrests in her daughter’s case, Mildred hires three empty billboards on the edge of town, questioning the local police chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) over her daughter’s murder, and attracting interest to her case. The film mostly focuses on the consequences and impact that the billboards have, not just for Mildred, but for the whole town.

The movie asks legitimate questions about the nature of the human soul in the midst of emotional pain. Can we truly change? Should we act upon our grief and anger? Is revenge anything other than cathartic? Should we seek justice for the ones we love at all costs?

McDonagh doesn’t seek to answer these questions. This movie is ambiguous, and it’s brilliant. You’re constantly second-guessing who to root for, and never sure who’s doing right and who’s doing wrong. Tales of vengeance, justice, and seemingly justifiable rage are as old as time, but Three Billboards pulls it off with a nuanced approach to keep you always questioning your own moral compass, and shows the flipside of a rampant pursuit of justice, the unintentional hurt and damage you can cause. The film warns us about the collateral damage that our own emotions can cause. I’ve never felt so conflicted watching a film as I did during some of the scenes in Three Billboards.

Lead actress, Frances McDormand’s performance is captivating and genuine throughout, the film’s narrative and writing allowed her to showcase her full range. The same can be said for Woody Harrelson, keeping with the movies general theme of moral ambiguity, it’s difficult to ascertain if Harrelson’s character is a genuinely good person or just another small town cop with a chip on his shoulder, Harrelson portrays this excellently.

The standout performance of the film goes to Sam Rockwell for his portrayal of inept police officer Jason Dixon. Without spoiling much, Rockwell’s character undergoes somewhat of a transformation in the third act, and the movie simply wouldn’t have had the same level of complexity, honesty, and brutality without Rockwell’s immaculate performance.


Where the movie stumbles slightly is its chronic under-use of Peter Dinklage. His appearance and subsequent lack of screen time in the film feels like a cheap cameo; a moment for the audience to say “oh look it’s Tyrion Lannister.” Either don’t use him at all or use him more, he’s a fantastic actor with a brilliant screen presence and to misuse him in such a way doesn’t sit right.

Three Billboards is wonderfully shot, not the most visually captivating, but it’s gritty, and the somewhat grey and dreary visuals lend themselves to the mundanity of everyday life, the void left by losing a loved one, and the true heartbeat of America’s unknown masses; the small town dramas and the people that live them.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is brilliantly funny and will have you questioning your ingrained moral code, but fear not, the moral of the story is ultimately up to you.

By Joe Parker – @joe_parker96



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