Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


            It's billed as a “comedy,” but its humorous moments are few and far between, and mostly sarcastic.  It's really an edgy drama with multi-dimensional characters, thrown together in some small town in the heartlands where empathy is in short supply.  But there's plenty of conflict.

            Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a tough Midwesterner who helps run a local gift shop.  She's divorced, and still has a high school son at home.  She's lost her daughter to a brutal rape/murder where the local police have no clues about the perpetrator.  She's so frustrated in her grieving that she rents three billboards to ask the Sheriff why nothing's been done.

            The billboards create an instant sensation around town, and in fact polarize the town into factions.  Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is well-respected as a lawman, but is also suffering from a fatal illness.  His deputies all revere him, so nobody seems to be working too hard on solving the Hayes case.  The Sheriff says they have no DNA match on the database, no witnesses, and no clues. Some of the townsfolk “back the blue,” and others, like Mildred Hayes, feel the police aren't doing enough, and some of them have their own grievances, like how the people of color are treated.

            There are plenty of colorful characters here.  Officer Jason Dickson (Sam Rockwell) is an angry accident waiting to happen.  The Sheriff's wife, Anne (Abbie Cornish), seems to have a drinking problem.  Mildred's ex, Charlie (John Hawkes) is a powder keg waiting for a random spark.  His attraction to a local bimbo, Penelope (Samara Weaving) doesn't deter his rancor toward Mildred, though their relationship now is complicated---they can have cross words and tender moments in the same conversation.  Probably like they did when they were married.

            The Church is compared to The Bloods and The Crips.  People haul off and do violent things with seemingly no repurcussions.  There's bullying and intimidation, and downright physical assault.  But there are also incredible moments of grace.

            Writer and Director Martin McDonagh has created a Heartland tableau featuring stark emotion, desperate strategy, and exasperating familiarity.  Frances McDormand's role isn't glamorous, but you can't take your eyes off her, anyway.  This one is not sunshine, lollipops, and rainbows.  But it is good theater.


Questions for Discussion:

1)                  When have you felt that the law wasn't enforcing enough?

2)                  When have you felt that the law was over-enforcing?

3)                  How do you handle grief?


Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association