There’s dark comedies and then there’s dark comedies – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is the latter. Be prepared because in this absurdist drama you’ll see and feel all manner of tone, from good, to bad.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows the story of a mother attempting to raise awareness for the murder of her daughter, in doing so, she erects three billboards as a call to action for the local police.
In this cold and realistically grim look into the reality of losing a child, we are met with Mildrid Hayes played by Frances McDormand – a thick skinned mother with a short temper and an imbalanced determination to seek either justice, revenge, or redemption for her daughter’s murder. From the very first opening shot of this film you are cast into a layered and complex story that serves to offer moviegoers plenty to process. With a twisted sense of humor and moments so inappropriately shocking you’ll find yourself not knowing whether to laugh, and make no mistake, it will make you feel guilty for cracking a smile.
The way in which director Martin McDonagh has balanced the personalities of each character is quite astounding; scene by scene it becomes increasingly difficult to figure out if you actually like or despise the lead characters; they consistently make morally reprehensible decisions while simultaneously enticing you to sympathize with their choices. Creating characters that are complex, interesting, and with qualities that any flawed human has is something few writers can achieve. Be prepared for emotional conflict from start to finish during the entire course of this film, because that’s the point – this film is about turning your expectations around and forcing you to see that anyone is capable of deeds and misdeeds, the world isn’t black and white, and even choices that may seem helpful initially, can oftentimes be the worst in the long run.
With Frances McDormand helming the lead role we are offered up a character that has as many layers as the complex makings of this films story. McDormand effortlessly plays a character that you can see is hurting deep down but hides it away in pride, though it’s easy enough to see she isn’t coping as well as she puts on. The struggle she’s going through can be seen in her fragile facade, like her explosive temperament and her tight emotional grip as she holds onto whatever shred of willpower she has left. Another leading role is Sam Rockwell, he plays the role of the dim and easily agitated police deputy – much like the lead character he has an extremely short temper and takes action without thinking of the consequences – ultimately resulting in further conflict with both himself and everyone else. We also get a touching and unexpectedly appropriate role from Woody Harrelson; his demeanor lands in stark contrast to the characters we follow throughout the film.
While the pacing is slow and the story has a somewhat undefined direction, what we are left with is a film that works each scene independent of one another – I admit, if this film hadn’t supplied such rich characters and unexpected story arcs then I may have had a bone to pick with the pacing. What gives the film its added sense of loneliness are the often cold and empty shots that fill the atmosphere. The rich variety of camerawork in this film ranges from one-takes, wide atmospheric shots with vibrant lighting, and intimate closeups that focus on subtle reactions. We also get trace amounts of music throughout, and in that respect the scenes can play out naturally without there being too much interference; this is a film about characters and it’s clear director Martin McDonagh wants to keep it that way. In terms of production design I felt it may have come out short in certain aspects like properly defining the time period in which the movie is set, lighting on the other hand, is gorgeous.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri will take you by surprise just when you think you have it all figured out, it’s by no means a complex mystery in a narrative sense; only when the characters begin to unravel do you realise that’s where the film shines brightest. Ultimately some of the characters actions may be a step in the ludicrous direction, however their emotions and reactions immediately show just how human they really are. Lonesome and unpredictable Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an unconventional peek into the impulsive and often irrational decisions we make in life, and the consequences that follow.