Movie review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

When Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) got tired of the lack of progress regarding the murder of her daughter, she commissions an ad company guy named Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) to put up Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. That’s the movie my wife and I saw at the Spectrum Theatre in Albany on the Sunday it was touted as Best Picture by the Screen Actors Guild.

Of course, the beloved chief of police William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is not happy to be called out in 20-foot letters, even on a back road. Besides, he has even a bit of an unrelated problem. But one of his officers, Jason Dixon (Oscar nominee Sam Rockwell), who still lives with his mama (Sandy Martin), is a hotheaded bigot who gets even more incensed.

Mildred’s ex, Charlie (John Hawkes) has been spending time with a 19-year old female named Penelope (Samara Weaving). Mildred’s son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, whose last three movies I’ve now seen) is coping with loss.

Three Billboards also stars Amanda Warren and Peter Dinklage.

Lots of people, obviously, really liked this movie and I’m one of them. I appreciated the development of the memorable and distinct characters, which shows that most of us are complicated beings. Occasionally the film is unexpectedly funny, and I laughed aloud more than once. Previous Oscar winner McDormand (Fargo) deserved her nomination, as do Rockwell and previous Oscar nominee Harrelson.

And some critics absolutely hated Three Billboards. A few thought the first part was great and it fell apart, by seemingly redeeming the worst character, which I don’t believe is what happened. Others found the film of little redeeming value, with a deus ex machina ending. What?

I’ve read that the wordplay from Martin McDonagh, who was also the director, was considered too glib and clever for its own good. And some just hate its politics; see, for instance, writer Ken Levine’s scalding take.

A couple other notes: there’s violence, but the murder is not shown, except in photos. In fact, the one time I turned away from the screen momentarily involved a scene practically out of Little Shop of Horrors.

It was a bit nerve-wracking occasionally, though. And if I didn’t realize this on my own, the woman sitting directly behind me let me know by telling her friend that she was so nervous she needed to ear more popcorn.

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