“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard? I assume it’s ya can’t say nothing defamatory…” – Mildred Hayes, played by Frances McDormand, in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Best Picture, Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actor in a Supporting Role (2), Best Original Music Score, Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing
This film has a pretty straight forward plot. Mildred Hayes’ (played by Frances McDormand) daughter was murdered; it’s now several months later and the local police have made no arrests and no progress on her case. And Mildred Hayes is angry. Very (and understandably) angry. So she goes right at the town’s beloved police chief and his department and calls them out publicly for it by way of (yes, you guessed it) the three billboards just outside of the town (Ebbing, MO…in the event that was not a given).
My Largely Irrelevant Commentary
The title of this one makes me chuckle. I mean just give away the whole plot from the get-go, right?! Go ahead and get it out of your system….I had to lol. It reminds me of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum in the way that it just seems a bit simplistic and a bit much all at the same time! But I quickly got over it when I reflected back on an earlier post about a movie whose title I still don’t understand and left you laughing only to prevent you from crying (yes, I’m talking about the lackluster, Phantom Thread). I think I definitely prefer the very direct Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri!
Special shout-out to the coveralls in this film. I still cannot wrap my head around how this movie didn’t land a nomination for Best Costume Design.
I’m going to come right out and say it. This film is so well cast it’s ridiculous. There are several familiar faces in it, yes, but just the characters are so so solid and they are exactly right – well developed, perfectly complex, etc. I feel like I am not articulating this well – my best explanation is this…you know when you are reading a book and the characters form in your mind to the extent where you have a sense of what they look like, how they carry themselves, etc to the point where you almost hope they don’t turn it into a film because you don’t want the movie to ruin it for you? That’s kind of what I mean with the casting of this movie. I just don’t know that it could have been done any better. Reminder…that’s just my opinion.
Frances McDormand. She’s the lead in the movie and her character is Mildred Hayes. You may remember her from Fargo, Almost Famous, Olive Kitteridge, North Country, and many others. She’s also not too shabby on Broadway (i.e. she’s a Tony Award winner). She has a resume with some very diverse roles, which is one reason I’m a fan. She knocked this role out of the park. The tremendous anger she feels toward the lack of justice for her daughter is so believable; at the same time she weaves in perfectly timed one-liners, sharp jabs, ultra-dry comebacks, and rants that will make you want to give a kick-ass fist pump as a show of respect. She’s bold and doesn’t hold much back – she goes off on a rant about what it means to be culpable when the local preacher pays a visit to her home and it is utterly fantastic. She had great chemistry with the rest of the cast; it all just really worked. While I don’t think she’ll kick-start a trend for faded blue industrial coveralls (maybe, maybe not), she’s easily one of the front-runners in a really stacked field for Best Actress in a Lead Role. Easily.
Woody Harrelson. This was a great role for him because his character had a sense of humor about him that I think we can all appreciate. And I think that’s when he’s at his best – serious, a little quirky, with a side of light-hearted humor. In the film he plays the police chief, William Willoughby, and the direct target of the billboards; a family man who is also experiencing his own personal conflicts because of his losing battle with cancer. So many good things to say about his performance in this role – and the fishing scene with his little girls is fantastic. Love that he was nominated in the supporting actor category; I think it is well deserved.
Officer Dixon is played by Sam Rockwell. Sam Rockwell plays some of my favorite supporting characters in some big movies (Wild Bill in the Green Mile anyone?). In this film, he plays a pain-in-the-ass, immature, close-minded, loose-cannon, with a tendency for violence and who still lives at home with his mother and pet turtle. And he makes you really dislike him until he doesn’t. Aside from Mildred Hayes, Officer Dixon has to be one of the most complex and compelling characters in the film. Sam Rockwell is a primary reason this film is as good as it is and he’s deserving of the nomination alongside his cast mate…he very well could be the one to beat.
Big shout-outs to the rest of the cast – Peter Dinklage (everyone’s favorite GoT character and spicy-dorito-rap-artist extraordinaire), Zeljko Ivanek (one of my favorite characters in madam secretary), Lucas Hedges (play’s Mildred’s son), and all the way to the guys who played the billboard painters. Really solid supporting cast.
Y’all. As mentioned up top, this film’s plot is pretty simple and straight forward. But damn, does it pack a solid punch. It starts with a bold statement and keeps the momentum going throughout the whole film. There is such a balance of turmoil, grief, darkness, violence, pain, absurdity, humor, sarcasm, and kindness that you have to commend the writers, directors, and editors on capturing that on screen so effectively.
It’s hard for me to find any fault in the film – it is cleverly written; it’s dark; it’s witty. And the ending was so well written. I could see it not appealing to the masses; you might have to have the right sense of humor for it – not everyone enjoys a really dark drama/comedy type of film – but it is right my wheelhouse and it will rank right up there with many of my all-time favorites.
Bottom line – There’s a reason this film has 7 nominations (and arguably could have more…such as Costume Design…hehe).