A murdered girl's defiant mother (Frances McDormand) boldly paints three local billboards, each with a controversial message, igniting a furious battle with a volatile cop (Sam Rockwell) and the town's revered chief of police (Woody Harrelson).
A great idea but poorly developed
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by WS
This is unmistakably an outsider’s view of the southern Mid-West and one that verges on parody - not a very affectionate one at that. Apart from the strong accents and some twangy banjo music near the start, very little attempt is made to create an authentic sense of place. We get no establishing shots of the town’s main street or residential neighbourhoods, and very little sense of what everyday life is like, how people make a living and spend their leisure time.
The film often prioritises stylised violence set-pieces at the expense of thoughtful character development and human interaction. Some of the plot developments are either downright silly or have insufficient build-up to make them plausible (such as when a character gets thrown out of a window in broad daylight and the perpetrator doesn’t getting charged - only suspended!). Development of the supporting characters is minimal. For instance, Peter Dinklage is a very good actor but he is given very little to do. James, the character he plays, is sad and pathetic and his entire contribution to the story, such as it is, is defined by his dwarfism. We get a trio of memorable characters – the stoical and obstinate Mildred, the rough diamond Chief Willoughby, and the ball of impotent rage that is Jason Dixon. But even here some aspects of the character development feel perfunctory. It struck me as odd that Mildred appears to have no outside interests or female friends her own age, and I'm not altogether clear about how she earns a living - she works in some kind of touristy gift ship but it's unclear whether she owns the business or is just employed there. I didn't find it very funny either - the humour is crude and unimaginative and I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times I laughed, although I was in a minority.
The attempts to bring political themes into the film are clumsy at best, manipulative at worst. For example, early on it seems to be trying to make a point about police racism. We learn that Officer Dixon has recently been accused of unjustified violence towards a black suspect but was never disciplined for it. But we never get to learn what really happened, we see no evidence of Dixon being racist in everyday life, and all the main characters in the story are white. So why even bring up the subject in the first place? We also learn that Mildred is a survivor of domestic violence, but again this hardly seems necessary to explain her motivations, and I felt it was bit cynical to create a strong, assertive female character only to make her the victim of male violence twice over. Yes, police misconduct, racism and spousal abuse are serious issues, but when a film has nothing meaningful or original to say about them, and is apparently only using them to give itself a liberal sheen, this leaves a rather bad taste in the mouth.
I'm torn between giving this 2 and 3 stars. It's well-paced and well directed. The characters played by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell are compelling if a little hard to relate to, and it explores the psychological themes of projected guilt and externalised self-loathing leading to violence (although not, it goes without saying, with the same degree of subtlety as that shown in "Manchester by the Sea"). And I liked the ambivalent ending - you feel the characters have learned something from their experiences . . . but have they learned to be better people, or just to make different mistakes in place of their old ones? But in the last analysis, Martin McDonagh's attempt to meld compassion, vulgarity, and Tarantino-lite violence into a coherent and satisfying whole does not really work, at least not for me. A great idea for a movie, but it could have been so much better if he had: 1) employed a script consultant; 2) spent a few months living in a small-town America to gain some empathy with its people.
16 out of 26 members found this review helpful.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by BE
Seen at the cinema, a superb movie by English director Martin McDonagh. Although filmed in America, it is apparently classed as an English movie. Superb acting, especially from Frances McDormand, the movie is full of humour, sadness, and all human emotions. Just when you think the storyline has settled down, it takes an unexpected turn. You'll need a strong stomach with the language but it's totally in context with the characters. A joy to behold. I have already seen it twice at the cinema and may yet go again. I picked up more on the humour the second time of viewing. I shall also leave it on my hire list to watch again when it is released on DVD. Deserves more than the maximum five stars!
11 out of 15 members found this review helpful.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by AB
We loved this film. McDormand is terrific playing a grieving mother determined that the police will focus on finding her daughter's killer. Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson are also excellent. The thing that raises the film from good to excellent are the completely unexpected plot twists - you never know what is going to happen next. The ending is rather unsatisfactory in that nothing is really resolved, although I guess that is true of much of real life.
6 out of 8 members found this review helpful.
Confused and disappointing
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by GR
A wayward film of a rather sad part of the world, which promised so much in the beginning but got more and more confused as it went on. Characters weren't properly developed and some of the plot twists were far too excessive and unbelievable. The gratuitous swearing is pointless and not necessary (far too much of it these days) and significantly detracts from the plot. Although the acting was good - these are good actors after all - the script and plot gave them little to work with in my view. There were many serious issues that are raised in this film, but few get properly dealt with or explored.
A lot of films today are formulaic and predictable so sometimes it's good to see one that takes alternative twists and turns, but in this particular case the film just got more and more annoying, and in the end did not live up to it's real life billboards.
5 out of 10 members found this review helpful.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by LL
Brilliant film with superb acting. A comedy sometimes Dark dealing with issues of a negative nature in a humourous way. You have to accept the content of the film for what it is to understand the message it gives. It was excellent from start to finish.
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful.
Perfectly pitched drama
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by Alphaville
Heartfelt drama hits all the right notes, beautifully written and paced to draw you along effortlessly into the lives of deftly-drawn characters you soon feel you know intimately. Even minor characters with only a few lines are well-rounded with something interesting to say. As he showed in In Bruges, writer/director Martin McDonagh has a knack for dialogue that’s moving, shocking and humorous all at the same time. Not a word is wasted.
The plot concerns Frances McDormand’s efforts to get small-town sheriff Woody Harrelson, who is dying of cancer, to find the murderer of her daughter. Confident to mix darkness with light, Mcdonagh shifts our emotions with one plot twist after another. It’s the kind of film that makes you quite happy for it to go on and on. The only misjudged note is the score of mawkish C&W ballads.
4 out of 5 members found this review helpful.
Trumptown, as opposed to Trumpton
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by NC
Frances could be a Brit, she has sufficient cred to be one. Miss Pettigrew effing a lot...........but that is mandatory in the States it appears....and in a lot of UK films now, alas.
Woody actually plays a fairly decent guy, although a redneck police chief, he does have an agreeable way with him. Almost a black comedy in parts.
Rated way higher in States than here, but still pretty well executed, and acting holds a bit more to film than town/folk authenticity. AS another write up says, could have been great if had spaced the heavy dialogue load with some nice downhome shots, and a bit more feel for Ebbing itself. Bit of perspective.
3 out of 6 members found this review helpful.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by CP Customer
Excellent film, wonderful character portraits and superb acting. Very dark but incredibly humorous in parts. This is the best film I have seen this year
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by PW
I think those who think this film is about the mid-west/south are misguided. This is a film about the human condition. I was reluctant at first to watch a film about rape and torture yet found myself laughing, cringing and crying all within a minute. I guess the film asks the question: 'What would you do?' and each character responds reasonably from their condition except the deputy who in many ways is the hero.
One of the best films in English I've seen in a long time.
3 out of 4 members found this review helpful.
- Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri review by SoniaGee
This film had me completely gripped all the way through, being totally enveloping for drama.
The main character, Frances McDormand acts brilliantly, as a mother who has lost her daughter, to a rapist.
Missouri is known as a redneck State, and the law-keepers sometimes do, sometimes don't, do their jobs as they ought.
I recommend it wholeheartedly.
Unless you like films with lace--and flowers growing in gardens in your films.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (aka 3 Billboards) review by Adrijan Arsovski - Cinema Paradiso
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes from the visionary mind of Martin McDonagh, a former playwright who brought the masterpiece ‘In Bruges’ to existence, and I’m eternally grateful to him for doing that. Unfortunately, his second follow-up (after the bizarrely uneven ‘Seven Psychopaths’) doesn’t reach that ‘In Bruges’ level and this is perfectly understandable because of my hypotheses that a person can give only ONE genius idea to the world, and the rest are only derivations to that idea. In all seriousness though, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri fails to provide that same catharsis as McDonagh’s directorial debut did, and of course I’m going to compare all his future films to ‘In Bruges’, there’s no point in denying it.
Three Billboards consists of three main parts: plotting the story, unraveling the plot, and conclusion. The first act is worthy of a genius, featuring several story threads that intertwine and communicate with each other to provide a web of narrative lines to follow for a later big reveal. Or so I’d hoped. The second part is a big letdown, since all that was built in the first part had been thrown out of the window for good. Instead of doubling down on these threads and lines as made in the first part, the second part just lets go everything built up to that point and becomes a totally different film, not caring enough to unravel the plotting in a satisfactory manner. Whether this was deliberate or not, it’s not very enjoyable for the attention of one filmgoer.
The final part is the conclusion, which Three Billboards is missing. That’s right: there is no big revelation, no sudden realization, no catharsis, no nothing; it’s just as if McDonagh threw his hands up in the air and just gave out, not caring enough to provide us with at least a fake cop out. All threads abruptly end like that one time when I had a faulty VHS cassette stopping before the plot had the chance to wrap up. And that’s exactly what Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is, a VHS that ends abruptly and offers no real satisfaction or gravitas (to an otherwise excellent first part, the plotting).
So in a way, you can treat Three Billboards like an unfinished canvas which you can provide your input and go from there. Killing off main characters (or important side characters) never works in both fiction and film, since their traits are usually populated by another, either existing – or a new character after they’re gone. Yes Game of Thrones, you’re cheating your audiences and I know it.
Finally, is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri worth your time? Yup, I’d say probably yes.
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