Writer-director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) has made his strongest film to date with the black comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s a movie that’s likely to see some Oscar nominations, especially for lead actress Frances McDormand (Fargo).
Several months after the grisly murder of Mildred Hayes’s (McDormand) teenage daughter, the police still have no leads. So, she rents three billboards and puts messages on them calling out the town’s beloved, cancer-stricken sheriff (Woody Harrelson) for the lack of progress. Soon, the town is turning on McDormand, no one more forcefully than a lunkheaded deputy (Sam Rockwell) with a history of violence.
McDonagh’s script and McDormand’s portrayal of Mildred keep her from being a pure-hearted victim. She’s confrontational, biting, and sometimes cruel. A flashback shows that her nasty edge existed even before her daughter’s death, and another character describes her as “never having a kind word for anyone.” But McDormand keeps her character grounded and human. She’s funny, heartbreaking, and a force of nature.
The story is at turns sad, bitter, and angry, but it never feels like nihilism for nihilism’s sake. Despite all of the darkness, there is a beleaguered hope and humanity on display. Lastly, in this era of people screaming at each other endlessly online, there’s a refreshing message here about how the best way to get through to others is by appealing to the better angles of their nature.
If you’re looking for Hollywood to make original, intelligent, adult-oriented films, Three Billboards is exactly the kind of movie you need to go see in the theater.