“There is no pain so great as the memory of joy in present grief – Aeschylus”
“I think that I shall never see a billboard lovely as a tree. Perhaps, unless the billboards fall, I’ll never see a tree at all – Ogden Nash”
Just what messages are placed on those Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri? Here they are, in the sequence someone driving past them would view.
“Raped while dying”
“And still no arrests?”
“How come, Chief Willoughby?”
The billboards were rented by “Mildred Hayes” (Frances McDormand – Moonrise Kingdom), a resident of the fictional small Missouri town of Ebbing. Her daughter “Angela” (Kathryn Newton – Lady Bird) was raped and murdered and there are no leads in the case. She feels that the local police force, led by “Chief Bill Willoughby” (Woody Harrelson – The Edge of Seventeen) has essentially abandoned the search for her daughter’s killer. The billboards are her way of trying to apply pressure to the Chief to find a way to close the case.
Problem is, everyone in town knows that Chief Willoughby is dying of pancreatic cancer. He, and the rest of the town, see Mildred’s use of these previously abandoned billboards as a personal affront against the man who they trust to keep them safe. “Officer Jason Dixon” (Sam Rockwell – Frost/Nixon) is reacting more strongly than anyone else about Mildred’s actions. He perceives them as downright defiance of his authority as a lawman. First he tries to intimidate “Red” (Caleb Landry Jones – God’s Pocket), the young man who rented those billboards to Mildred. But Red refuses to take them down. Then he tries to ramp up the pressure on Mildred by arresting her friend/employee “Denise” (Amanda Warren – Mother!).
Mildred’s son “Robbie” (Lucas Hedges – Manchester by the Sea) doesn’t like the blowback he and his mom are getting from the billboards. Her ex-husband “Charlie” (John Hawkes) stops by to let Mildred know that he doesn’t like the billboard and still blames her for their daughter’s death. About the only person who isn’t angry at Mildred is “James” (Peter Dinklage – The Boss), who gives her an alibi for something she does at a critical juncture in the film.
Writer/director Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths) appears to like ensemble casts, dark humor and working with particular actors. Aside from the previously mentioned Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Amanda Warren, we find Abbie Cornish (playing the wife of Chief Willoughby) and Zeljko Ivanek (a police sergeant) in the cast and all five of them were cast in Seven Psychopaths together.
What makes Three Billboards so good is that it mixes an excellent story with more than one multi-layered character. The revelation of the complexity of those characters and the strong level of tension throughout the film combine to keep the viewer on the edge of their seat.
Add to that the plethora of great performances from the cast, McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell in particular and you have a must-see movie.