Movie #274 2020: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Ugh, I don’t even know where to start with this one.

You know that gif where Meryl Streep is cheering in the audience at an awards ceremony? You know… this one:

That gif is a perfect representation of how I feel about Frances McDormand both in this movie and in life. But more about that later…

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film based on a true story. Though not exactly a carbon copy of real life, it entails a grieving mother named Mildred (McDormand) who is sick of waiting for her local police department to avenge her daughter’s death. In response, she commissions three disused billboards on the old main road in and out of Ebbing to read some simple statements and questions regarding why nothing has been done. (I won’t transcribe them here, as it’s much more effective to see them with your own eyes.) This movie basically tells the story of the events follow the erection of the billboards and how the police department – and the general public – react.

Honestly, spoiler alert, I loved almost everything about this movie.

I’ll say it loud and clear: this is how you tell a story. I could not take my eyes off the screen for the film’s entirety; instantly gripping, perfectly paced, comprehensive character building – truly outstanding as a piece of cinema.

Perhaps the biggest contribution to how I perceived this movie? Frances McDormand. She has spades, buckets, and treasure troves of talent and her Oscar win is one of the most deserved I’ve witnessed in recent times. She gives Mildred so much texture and complexity, ultimately making you feel that you have to root for her despite her many flaws. Not only that, but the script lends its hand to making Mildred’s dialogue and witty one-liners absolutely biting and often below the belt, and I truly believe she is one of the best movie characters of the current century.

What ought to be quite a challenging and dark movie turns out to be a very interesting and well made one. Some of the shots here are glorious, and who knew Missouri was so beautiful?! I sure didn’t. A supporting cast including the underrated Woody Harrelson also props up the lead character, again providing a complex look at how his police chief deals with the issue at hand. Sam Rockwell – despite me not being fond of his acting here at first – ends up giving a brilliant performance too.

So, what were the things I didn’t like about Three Billboards? Well, I could have done without the flagrant use of slurs like the N word and f*ggot, but they do reflect the way in which bigoted, racist characters would speak, so without these uncomfortable phrases would the language used be entirely realistic? Probably not. It’ll make you uncomfortable, sure, but if you can get past that you’ll see the brilliance in this movie. I have seen one prevalent African American movie critic suggest however that Rockwell’s character could have been simply written as a black man instead of a white Republican redneck to avoid this criticism, and I have to agree that this would have easily been the smarter choice.

Regardless of such a flaw, Three Billboards provides one of the best first watches I’ve had so far this year, which is saying something as this is the 274th entry into my 2020 watchlist. Breath-takingly stunning and moving, this is an excellent piece of cinema that I will probably never forget.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is available to rent on Amazon for £3.49 in the UK. (Worth it!)

TQR Category Ratings:

Costume & Set Design: 
Overall Enjoyability Rating: 

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