It’s always weird to come out of a movie that’s been hyped to the moon and back and be unsure of what you think of it. You know you liked it, and most of the elements that have been hyped paid off, but you find yourself feeling like it didn’t quite live up to the hype. And then you think to yourself that hype is bad, trailers are bad, people are bad, and the only way to experience Pure Cinema™ is to live in a cave far away from society where you can have new movies delivered to you by courier having seen and hear nothing about them prior to the moving images hitting your eyeballs.
Hype does weird things to people.
The point is, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of those movies for me. I enjoyed almost every second while it was playing but when it ended I felt a little disappointed. It was hyped as one of the best movies of the year, a sure Best Picture candidate, a bundle of dark laughs from start to finish, and probably at least one person has said that it’ll cure cancer. And I think it’s really good. But, you know, it ain’t all that.
Its protagonist is Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a spitfire of a woman who’s run out of cares to give. Her daughter was raped and murdered several months earlier and the local police force has thus far progressed at a snail’s pace. She decides that, as a way to both provoke them into doing something and as a way to keep the case in the public spotlight, that she’d rent out three billboards outside of town that ask the police chief (Woody Harrelson) why there haven’t been any arrests.
This prompts a stream of events that are humorous, sad, scary, thrilling, entertaining, and/or awesome. Truth be told, some of these events would have happened anyway, but without Mildred’s prompts, they might not have gotten to the points that they do. The film isn’t singularly focused on the case, as there are several stories being told with many characters, but it’s the link that holds it all together and progresses it along.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a very enjoyable movie with a great deal of dark comedy, interesting characters, strong acting, thematic depth, and intriguing stories.
There are lots of laughs. It’s a dark comedy—sometimes very dark. It’s been written and directed by Martin McDonagh, whose previous works include In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. If you laughed at those, and in particular In Bruges, you’ll be laughing during Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s also got some themes on its mind that impact America—and maybe even more specifically small-town America. Violence against women, the response by authorities, and racism are focused on in decent depth. This isn’t a film that sits us down and lectures us about its themes, either, which is good; it imbues them into its scenes and lets the actions of its characters speak to them.
It also features fantastic acting. Frances McDormand reminds us why she’s already got four Oscar nominations, one of which she won. She’s so fantastic here, with her no-care attitude, determination, and surprising depth. She isn’t just an angry character; we get to see the other sides to her, too, mostly in smaller moments. Matching her is Sam Rockwell, playing a racist police officer whose character goes through a lot over the course of the film.
Those two are the highlights, but they’re not the only actors in the film that warrant attention. There are strong turns from Woody Harrelson, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, and John Hawkes thrown in, too. Some of them are only in a couple of scenes, but they play important roles.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a very enjoyable movie with a great deal of dark comedy, interesting characters, strong acting, thematic depth, and intriguing stories. So why does it feel underwhelming to me? Hype hurt it. Don’t listen to people. Don’t even listen to me, I guess. Ideally, you’ll read this review after you already watch it in order to help form or solidify your opinions on it—or any movie. But we don’t live in an ideal world. This is a great movie and the only reason I’m down on it at all is because it doesn’t cure cancer.
Conclusion: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a great movie.
Recommendation: Ignore the hype if possible and see all movies without that influence. But Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes close to living up to the hype.