By Charles Chandler
See this award winner, but know before you go, that it is R rated, an accurate rating given its profanity, graphic violence and general disrespect for age, gender, race and religion.
The seven academy award nominations that Three Billboards Outside of Ebbin, Missouri has received are well earned and more would not have been a stretch. This is a big strong adult movie with dark humor, over the top drama where seething anger and frustration often explode in raw emotional outburst and unprovoked violence.
The story line is straight forward. Angela Hays the out of control teenage daughter of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) was found raped and burned by the side of the road. Months have passed without a clue suspect or conviction in this terrible murder case. Mildred totally obsessed with her loss and consumed with anger comes up with an idea to refocus the Ebbing Police Department and Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) attention on the case. She does this by renting three derelict billboards near the location where her daughter was murdered. Then on each of the three billboards is displayed one of these statements “Raped While Dying”; “And Still No Arrests?”; “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”
Soon Police Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), the sadistic, angry mama’s boy sees the billboards, gets his shirt in a wad and take exception to what his simple mind perceives as an insult to the beloved Chief Willoughby. The tension between Mildred and Ebbing's law enforcement that has been simmering now goes to boil over. The (choose your stereotype here) townsfolk of Ebbing are draw in and soon Mildred gets a visit from Chief Willoughby and the local priest both ratcheting up the pressure on her to take the billboards down. Both their approaches are surprising and Chief Willoughby’s personal revelation should have moved Mildred to relent.
Her rebuttal to Willoughby and the Priest is why I go to movies; Mildred is unrepentant and demonstrates her bed rock commitment to see justice or revenge for the death of her daughter regardless of the consequences to herself, the town or anyone else.
Academy Award winner Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”) has produced a courageous movie here and has done a couple of other things surprisingly well. In this movie he has captured the Southern small town character of Ebbing and the seemingly unexplainable behaviors of the Hayes. Before you see this movie and to better understand this dysfunctional Hayes family, their love hate relationships and disrespectful behavior to each other, I suggest you read the current best seller “Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of a Family and Culture in Crisis.” By J. D. Vance. It is an insider’s guided tour through the crazy world of dysfunctional families.
All of the supporting cast turn in great believable performances. My favorites were Police Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) and his evil alcoholic mother, two crazy people that you will love to hate. An excellent performance was delivered by Mildred’s ex husband, an alleged wife beating cop played by John Hawkes. He and his 19 year old bubblehead girlfriend are just too perfect as a couple.
I think the performance of Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri by actress Frances McDormand takes this movie beyond what the British Director Martin McDonagh had ever envisioned. I think this is the performance of her career surpassing that of Marge Gunderson in Fargo. Surly she will take home the Oscar for Best Actress.
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