Anger, Grief and Human Nature in Three Billboards

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Directed By: Martin McDonagh

Grade: A-

I had been wanting to watch this one for a while and it was well worth the wait. Months since her daughter was murdered with no answers Mildred Hayes rents out three billboards calling out the police (especially the Chief). This sets off a firestorm in the small town serving to ratchet up the growing anger and tension.

a lovely small town

Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell won Oscars for their roles in this and it was well-deserved. Really everyone was excellent. This is a hard movie to watch but it left me with a lot to think about. The characters are in someway just so human and relatable that it’s a film you can identify with.

Mildred surprised me because I’m not the biggest fan of McDormand but what she’s really being driven by is unbearable grief as well as anger that no justice has been done her daughter.

Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes

Her best moments in the movie are when the caring shines through and that’s even for Chief Willoughby who you find out pretty quickly is dying of cancer after she takes out the billboards. She is a flawed character and  you can see that even before- there’s a scene with her daughter that will just break your heart. It goes to the old adage be careful what you say to the people you love because you never know when it will be the last time you talk to them.

Woody Harrelson as Willoughby

Woody Harrelson’s Willoughby is an interesting character. He’s much loved in the town and, while angry, you see that he does understand where Mildred is coming from. He meets her mostly with compassion and understanding- which is a lot more than some townspeople. There’s a bit that really resonated when he explains that sometimes justice comes years later when someone does something stupid or worse never at all.

In a smaller role I also enjoyed Samara Weaving as Mildred’s ex-husbands new and extremely young girlfriend who had a few of the funnier moments.

the third billboard

There was a bit of a controversy over this movie- especially Sam Rockwell’s character. The character is a racist, violent cop and a lot of people didn’t like the fact that the movie seemingly treats him kindly and maybe even redeems him. I think Rockwell was great and its crazy to say he didn’t deserve his Oscar because his character was a bad guy but I totally respect people that feel that way.

(Although I would like to point out that we don’t give Oscars to characters and if you’re going to start disqualifying bad ones well, it’s probably going to limit a lot of Oscar chances.)

Sam Rockwell as Jason Dixon

Knowing about his character going in he was probably still my biggest problem with the movie. The fact is he’s just so over the top and- on top of everything kind of stupid- that it makes Willoughby look extremely bad that he not only keeps him around but also seemingly rolls his eyes at and hand waves the things he’s accused of doing in the past.

It makes me seriously question Willoughby whose a character I think I’m supposed to like for the most part. Jason also straight up assaults two people throwing one out of a window in the middle of the day- right across from the police station and they do absolutely nothing. An outsider fires him but I couldn’t help but think you know, why wasn’t he immediately arrested? I mean he arrests a woman for having pot (and being Mildred’s friend) and she sits in jail for most of the movie so they couldn’t arrest him at least at first?


Whether you think the character was redeemed or not is going to be a personal interpretation. I think it was a great performance but the character kind of threw off parts of the movie for me.

Recommend: Yes. Great performances and characters- but beware racism, assault, language, illusions to what happened to Angela and a scary trip to the dentist. Not an easy movie to watch but a good one.


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