REVIEW: ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri’ Powered By Strong Script, Acting

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is listed as a comedy and the trailers definitely promote that aspect of the picture. However, there’s more going on in this movie than just humor.

As it’s title suggests, the film centers around three billboards near a rural town that call out the municipality’s chief of police for not solving a case. The person who ordered and paid for the signage is Mildred (Francess McDormand), a woman whose daughter was raped and murdered. At the film’s start, it’s been seven months since the murder and there have been no arrests and no leads in the case.

In response, Mildred takes aim at Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), for what she sees as incompetence and a lack of effort on behalf of the Police Department toward her daughter’s case. The response from the community starts to turn the small town of Ebbing upside down and in the process reveals numerous things about its inhabitants.

“Billboards,” written and directed by Martin McDonagh, has a lot of great qualities, one of them being the unpredictability in its story. There was more than a couple times that the movie took an unexpected turn and it was difficult to know exactly how something would play out or how a certain character might act. In addition to having a story that keeps its audience unaware of what will happen next, “Billboards” also benefits from its dark complexity in how it studies its characters.

Each main character has an interesting arc and there’s more to them than what meets the eye. Mildred’s grief, for example, is heavily explored and the film gives her anger and sadness plenty of depth. Chief Willoughby is very much the same way. At first glance, it seems like the chief is somewhat an incompetent head of police, but he has his own background that is quite interesting in its own right.

The complexities and depth of these character arcs helps to balance out its moments of humor that are scattered throughout the flick from start to finish. McDonagh’s script is filled with a lot of sharp witted dialogue and it’s all very much rooted in the scenarios and emotions that are playing out though the film’s story. As a result, it never comes across as though this movie is trying too hard to get a laugh, instead, it feels very honest.

Bringing much of the film together was its stellar cast, headlined by three award caliber performers in McDormand, Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. McDormand, for example, vividly displays the pain her character is going through, as well as showing her strong resolve for justice.

Harrelson, meanwhile, does great work as the police chief. In his portrayal, the audience can tell that he’s frustrated by the billboards that have been put up by Mildred, but at the same time is sympathetic to her cause and very much wants to solve this case. The latter is something that very much weighs on his character. While Rockwell gave a good performance, though, it’s hard to really get into how he pulls this off without spoiling anything.

“Ebbing” is also exceptionally well shot. Not only does the camera work put the audience into rural Missouri, but they also set the mood in a few moments. For example, some of the scenes taking place at night have lights turned on against the billboards and bathe the setting in an orange/red color, creating an impressive visual.

In terms of flaws , “Billboards” does run a little long and could’ve been tightened a bit here and there. However, that’s really nitpicking. The script should win some awards this season, the story is intriguing and the acting is top notch. 4.8 out of 5.

Author: Matthew Liedke

Journalist and film critic in Minnesota. Graduate of Rainy River College and Minnesota State University in Moorhead. Outside of movies I also enjoy sports, craft beers and the occasional video game.

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