Movie Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

To say Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is another crime drama is like saying Frances McDormand is just another actress. It’s deep, angry, a little funny, and brings out the best in its actors. Just like McDormand.

Sam Rockwell summed McDormand up in his Golden Globe acceptance speech (for best supporting actor), calling her a “badass” and “force of nature” and then thanking her “for making me a better actor.” When she’s in a film, you can be sure she’s going to bring out the best in everyone involved.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths), Three Billboards is about a woman (McDormand) whose daughter was raped and murdered and what she does when the police stop working on the case—namely, putting up three billboards questioning their efficacy. More specifically, she calls out the chief of police, played by Woody Harrelson (Zombieland, War for the Planet of the Apes).


Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand in a confrontation in Three Billboards.

But this isn’t a movie about the little guy or gal going up against the bad guys or the old movie trope of inept, donut-eating officers. It’s more complicated than that. The movie touches upon an ugliness in people that we don’t want to believe is there.


People are referring to the movie as a black comedy, because it has a number of funny moments throughout the dark tale. For the setting, McDonagh captures the look and feel of a small Midwestern town where something sinister has happened. The juxtaposition of the quaint with the malevolent underscores the entire film.

The main players

McDormand (Fargo, Moonrise Kingdom) plays Mildred Hayes, the woman angry over the loss of her daughter and the lack of justice. Her portrayal is not of the typical grieving mother often seen in film—distraught and emotional. She’s stony and unbending. Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby, in contrast, is considerably laid back, taking the situation in stride—at least on the outside. Harrelson portrays him with a subtleness that arguably makes it one of his best performances. Rockwell (The Way Way Back, Iron Man2) plays racist hothead Officer Dixson. As in all of his roles, Rockwell is his own force of nature as the bile-filled Officer Dixson.

The story is compelling, and the performances are top notch. The film has been recognized at film festivals as well as through mainstream awards, such as the Golden Globes and SAG Awards. It has also been nominated for seven Oscars. It’s definitely worth seeing.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is now playing in select theaters for an encore release after winning four Golden Globes and getting nominated for seven Oscars.

Golden Globe wins:

  • Best Motion Picture – Drama
  • Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture – Drama (Frances McDormand)
  • Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture (Sam Rockwell)
  • Best Screenplay – Motion Picture (Martin McDonagh)
  • Nominated for Best Director – Motion Picture (Martin McDonagh)

Oscar nominations:

  • Best Picture
  • Lead Actress – Frances McDormand
  • Supporting Actor – Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
  • Original Screenplay
  • Film Editing
  • Original Score


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