Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows grieving mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) who, seven months after her daughter is raped and murder and still no culprit has been found, paints three billboard signs directed at the town’s revered chief of police, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), outside of her hometown of Ebbing, Missouri. But the law – and Willoughby’s second-in-command, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence – don’t take kindly to the provocation. And the townsfolk are on their side. But Mildred doesn’t care about getting making a bit of trouble. In fact, she’s more than up for causing a scene or two.
There’s so much that I love about this film: the performances, the characters, the conflicts, the balance of tragedy and comedy, but most of all, I love how it evolved in ways that I wasn’t expecting it to. Frances McDormand gives a powerful performance and you can tell how much of a connection she had with her character, and the dedication that she wanted to give to make people aware of how relevant and culturally insightful this film is. She wanted you to stop in your tracks and pay attention, and that’s just what you’ll do.
However, knowing that there isn’t going to be a sequel makes me think that, on further viewings, my rating of this will eventually come down. Director Martin McDonagh has commented that “So many crimes are unsolved, and part of the story is what happens when a crime isn’t solved. What happens to the people left behind? What happens to their anger and rage and pain?” Which is great. I’m glad that they haven’t given a happy ending to the investigation just because it was made for a cinema screen. I can handle the reality of what the families in this story are left with, what they have to deal with every day, the heartbreak that won’t go away. That kind of ending is just as powerful in its own way.
But what I am left feeling is that we know far too little about Angela, about her relationship with her mother and the circumstances of her death or the lead up to it. Giving her character more background would have given such a bigger impact on the story, allowing us to see her through Mildred’s eyes. That way, we could have felt the emotion that she was feeling. But that potential of breaking its viewers’ hearts and souls is lost and, instead, she is given nothing more than an empty body, a body that we struggle to want to seek justice for in the same way that Mildred does.
And not just because of that, but I so want to see Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell go on either a revenge spree or an emotional journey together, whichever way they decide to go.