From the trailer for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, written and directed by Martin McDonagh, I was expecting it to be dark, but humorous. Turns out that the majority of the humor that classified this film as part comedy was showcased in the preview. The rest of the film, which I’m certain will be highly acclaimed because of the exceptional acting and raw portrayal of the whole gamut of human emotions, had an almost-suffocating feeling to it as the viewer becomes sucked into the most depressing town in the Midwest.
Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother whose teenage daughter’s murder has yet to be solved. As the one year anniversary of Angela’s death draws closer, Mildred, with a quiet and brooding wrath, pays to have a succinct yet powerful message plastered on the three billboards outside her hometown of Ebbing.
The town of Ebbing’s collective response to Mildred is one of disdain. How dare she call out Chief Willoughby in that impertinent manner? Just who does she think she is? Woody Harrelson, who stars as the chief, initially has a visceral response to being provoked in such a grand fashion, but deep down is understanding of Mildred’s motives even though he is dealing with an unenviable crisis of his own.
And then there’s the town’s racist and homophobic police officer, Jason Dixon, portrayed by Sam Rockwell. Dixon, a drunkard who lives with his mother, has a short fuse and believes his badge gives him the right to bully whomever he pleases. Eager to defend Willoughby’s honor, Dixon decides to take matters into his own hands.
As the story unfolded, I felt inner turmoil. On the one hand, I knew McDormand’s, Harrelson’s, and Rockwell’s individual performances were all Oscar-worthy, but I can’t necessarily say that I liked the movie. The plot was so outrageously unconventional, and I appreciated that, but I felt like I was drowning in the characters’ vortex of depression and rage.
The film is definitely not one for the faint-hearted when it comes to being politically or socially correct. Besides the f-word being strung into every other bit of dialogue it seemed, even more offensive words were used regularly to highlight the town’s overall ignorance and isolation. I cringed in my seat as the c-word and n-word were screamed on the big screen along with the words faggot and retarded. (As a former special education teacher, I especially bristle whenever the word retarded is used.)
My neighbor Melissa and her sister, Jennifer, joined me as we watched the film, and while all three of us agreed the acting was top-notch, not one of us would recommend it. It seems to be a bit of a paradox to admire the acting but not like the film, but overall the plot felt too heavy for us. Melissa shared that the movie felt so much longer than an hour and fifty-five minutes long, and Jennifer and I nodded our heads in unison.
As we discussed the film, Jennifer brought up some lingering questions she had, not feeling that everything was explained the way she had hoped. Melissa, who at one point during the film leaned over and whispered, “This movie makes me feel like Mother-of-the-Year,” pointed out several aspects of the film that didn’t quite jive for her. “There’s no way that he shouldn’t have been arrested on the spot for that,” she said of one character’s behavior. (As with all my movie reviews, no spoilers!) In utter disbelief of the way the people in Ebbing lived, Melissa wondered aloud, “Do people actually live that way?”
One aspect of the film that annoyed me was Willoughby’s wife Anne, played by Abbie Cornish. I felt she was completely miscast, and, as I shared that, Jennifer pointed at me and said, “Yes!” We both felt that with her Australian accent, she was way too beautiful and sophisticated to have ever found her way to that hellhole of a town. (I was also bothered by the fact that there was never any explanation as to why Mildred always wears coveralls. Seriously, what was up with that?)
Of course, one of the things that will ultimately resonate with movie goers is the overall idea that there is good and bad within each of us. As we left the theater, I had the opportunity to speak with a gentleman named Walt, who shared, “I loved it. I thought it showed the depth of humanity from loving to extreme hate and violence. We all have that in us, and every day we have to decide whether we choose love or hate.”
Movie times: click here
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
Director: Martin McDonagh
Actors: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Rating: Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references