Review: ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ is a darkly comic thriller that finds humour in the saddest of places

PUBLISHED: 09:28 28 February 2018

Dixon (Sam Rockwell) squares up against Mildred (Frances McDormand) in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Dixon (Sam Rockwell) squares up against Mildred (Frances McDormand) in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri somehow manages to find humour - and a great deal of irony - in the darkest of places.

Frances McDormand takes no prisoners in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Frances McDormand takes no prisoners in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Despite a plot that surrounds the abduction, rape and murder of a teenage girl, there are genuine laugh out loud moments and witty one liners; largely thanks to the quick fire dialogue of director Martin McDonagh (‘In Bruges’).

But the film’s real success is down to grieving protagonist Mildred Hayes, played to award-winning affect by Frances McDormand.

A foul-mouthed mother desperately searching for answers to her daughter’s death, McDormand’s performance combines desperation, anger, guilt and - in the closing third - even a glimmer of hope.

Frances McDormand takes no prisoners in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Frances McDormand takes no prisoners in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Furious that the police department in the fictional Midwest American town are not doing enough, in her eyes, to find her daughter Angela’s killer, Mildred pays thousands of dollars to have three blood red, darkly poignant billboards installed in the hope that detective William Wolloughby (funny yet physically suffering good cop Woody Harrelson) will take note and find Angela’s killer.

The three billboards in question read: “Raped while dying,” “And still no arrests,” “How come, Sheriff Willoughby?”

Ultimately, sharp-tongued Mildred wants answers and nothing is going to get in her way - even if that does mean drilling a hole through her dentist’s finger, abusing the local vicar or calling a TV reporter ‘a b*tch’.

It’s unsurprising how well Three Billboards has been received - there are few other movies that manage to combine dark, black humour with emotional pain as well as this.

McDormand conveys Mildred’s deep emotion during one scene in which a stag shows up as she’s planting flowers under the billboards. Though adamant it’s not a reincarnation of daughter Angela, it still makes for the most genuinely heartfelt five minutes of the movie - but McDormand still manages to make light of the situation, insisting that she can’t offer the stag Dorito’s because they’re sharp and pointy and might kill him. “Then where’d we be?”

While McDormand is the standout, the entire cast is brilliant: from watching Mildred’s tumultuous relationship with grieving son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, next to be seen in ‘Lady Bird) pushed to emotional breaking point, to meeting Mildred’s abusive ex husband Charlie (John Hawkes) who is now shacked up with a 19-year-old girl in the hope that it’ll soften the pain of his daughter’s mysterious death.

Peter Dinklage as James is on witty form too, pining after the totally unromantic Mildred - though the pair do form a bond, of sorts, when events unfold - and Sam Rockwell, who plays ‘dumb cop’ Dixon brilliantly.

The music chosen to accompany certain scenes in the film - especially when Mildred storms into Ebbing Police Department - sounds like she’s stepping into a Wild West fight.

But, as Chief Willoughby writes poignantly, “Hate never solved nothing - but calm did”. There’s some irony in that statement - both in the movie and real life.

‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ is now showing at the Light Cinema in Wisbech. Visit for screening dates, times and tickets.


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