Mildred Hayes, a hard-nosed mother is seeking justice for her murdered daughter. With no arrests after seven months, Mildred puts up three roadside signs to goad Ebbing police chief into action. But the law – and especially Sam Rockwell’s hot-headed deputy – don’t take kindly to the provocation. And the townsfolk are on their side. But Mildred doesn’t care about ruffling a few feathers. In fact, she’s happy to pluck the whole bird.
Initial release: April11, 2019 (USA)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Budget: $12–15 million
Awards: Academy Award for Best Actress,
Nominations: Academy Award for Best Picture,
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is simple enough on paper.
A bereaved mother (played by the unparalleled force-of-nature that is Frances McDormand), upset that the local police force haven’t done enough to catch the killer of her teenage daughter, rents the three billboards on a back-road leading into her town, calling out their ineffectual investigation.
The police force (represented here by Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell) end up putting more time and effort into getting the billboards taken down, which only cements the mother’s will to keep them up, and a small-town war-of-words and actions begins to brew.
Of course, this coming from writer and director Martin McDonagh, things don’t stay simple for very long.
As we continue to go back and forth and continue to escalate out of control, with a mix of supporting characters in the small town played by Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish and Sandy Martin, we know pretty much from the get-go that things are going to get a whole lot worse before they get better, if they manage to get better at all.
Of course, we should have known this already, because McDonagh loves to take us on long, winding, painful roads before giving us one last kick to the crotch.
Sorry, scratch that, not McDonagh. McDonaghs.
Because between Martin and his brother John Michael, they have ended their movies by “maybe” killing Colin Farrell (In Bruges), “maybe” killing Brendan Gleeson (The Guard), definitely killing Brendan Gleeson (Calvary), definitely killing Brendan Gleeson again (also In Bruges), and killing all of Colin Farrell’s mates (Seven Psychopaths).
Ironically, for a film so wrapped up in death, Three Billboards manages to stick the ending by going in a completely different direction.
It is the kind of ending that, initially, on first watch, immediately afterwards, is very good.
Then, a few minutes later, becomes very, very good.
And then, after a few hours or days or weeks, you realise it was brilliant.
Having watched McDormand and Rockwell go head-to-head in such escalating ways, that half-way through the film you have no idea where it could possibly be going, until the final scene, and you realise there was nowhere else for this film to go than here.
That is even more applicable here to McDonagh who, three films into his career and already enjoying huge critical success, is only getting started.
Somehow, in a movie centred on the death of a loved-one, McDonagh has crafted a film that is incredibly funny, but never afraid to look away from the dark abyss at the core of it all: a thoroughly destroyed mother looking for someone, anyone, to take her aimless anger out on.
Powerful, emotional, hilarious and heart-breaking, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is in Irish cinemas from 12 January.