I cannot remember another movie that is more dependent on its on-screen talent than “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” For one reason or another, every single character is ugly and unlikeable, but nearly all manage to bring some heart into a film that is so bleak and gray you’ll want to watch “The Road” as a palate cleanser. This is a compliment to writer-director Martin McDonagh, but an even bigger thumbs-up to Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.
I would not be surprised if McDonagh had McDormand (“Fargo,” “Almost Famous”) in the back of his mind while penning the script. She shines as Mildred, a bereaving mother that is done waiting for answers from the local police about the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter, and rents space on a trio of billboards outside of town to put pressure on law enforcement, more accurately on Chief Willoughby, admirably played by Harrelson.
I’m not sure if anyone could have done what McDormand does in the role, even if she’s a bit cartoonish at times — the coveralls at dinner were just comical. She’s brash, curt, and just plain doesn’t care about anyone or anything anymore. She only wants to see some damn results. It’s easy to root for her early on, and it’s even easier to hate Rockwell (“Moon,” “Seven Psychopaths”), who plays an over-his-head and racist cop named Dixon. Rockwell is damn good for what he’s given, but most of the time he’s a caricature straight out of “Super Troopers” — a punchline that hardly ever hits with much force.
This is where the film hits its biggest flaw. McDormand and Rockwell do develop as characters, but both arcs feel somewhat cheap. Sure, no person is all good or all evil, but to have a character throw someone out of a two-story window in one scene, and then jumping through fire, literally, to do the right thing the next, feels a bit rushed. In a film with lesser actors, these leaps would never work, but McDormand and Rockwell are so stupendous that they are almost believable.
“Three Billboards” is a flawed, but great movie. Flawed because it is overstuffed, dipping its toe in race relations, small-town politics, and family relationships, while never having enough time or space to expand on any topic. And great in that fact that no matter how unpleasant everyone was, I was still able to find myself cheering for at least one person thanks to the performances.
BOX OFFICE REVIEW
1. “Maze Runner: The Death Cure”: $24,167,011 (week 1); Fox.
2. “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle”: $16,144,874 (week 6); Sony. Total gross: $337,802,077.
3. “Hostiles”: $10,110,739 (week 6); Entertainment Studios. Total gross: $11,958,534.
4. “The Greatest Showman”: $9,550,367 (week 6); Fox. Total gross: $126,525,599.
5. “The Post”: $9,107,141 (week 6); Fox. Total gross: $58,793,064.
“Winchester” — Eccentric firearm heiress believes she is haunted by the souls of people killed by the Winchester repeating rifle.
Director: Michael & Peter Spierig
Cast: Helen Mirren, Sarah Snook, Jason Clarke, Angus Sampson
“A Fantastic Woman” — Marina, a waitress who moonlights as a nightclub singer, is bowled over by the death of her older boyfriend.
Director: Sebastián Lelio
Cast: Daniela Vega, Francisco Reyes, Luis Gnecco, Aline Küppenheim
“The Cage Fighter” — A blue-collar family man breaks the promise he'd made to never fight again. Now forty years old, with a wife and four children who need him, Joe Carman risks everything to go back into the fighting cage and come to terms with his past.
Director: Jeff Unay
Cast: Vernon Beach, Callie Carman, Delanee Carman, Joe Carman