FILM REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Female lead stands out in prominent indie film

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has received a lot of acclaim during this award season. The film, featuring actors such as Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson (pictured above from left to right), tells the story of mother Mildred Hayes, played by Frances McDormand, who seeks justice for her murdered daughter. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Earlier this month, Fox Searchlight’s latest movie, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, turned heads after a distinguished presence at this year’s Golden Globe Awards. 

The film, written and directed by Martin McDonough, won four awards: Best Supporting Actor in a Motion Picture for Sam Rockwell, Best Actress in a Motion Picture for Frances McDormand, Best Screenplay and Best Motion Picture in the drama category. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was also nominated for four SAG awards and won three in the Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, Outstanding Performance by a Male Actor in a Supporting Role and Outstanding Performance by a Cast in Theatrical Motion Picture categories. 

As of Tuesday Jan. 23, the film has recieved seven Oscar nominations. For an indie film produced on a $15 million budget, these acclaims are an extraordinary achievement. 

The film is about the chaos that engulfs a small town after a grieving mother named Mildred Hayes—played by McDormand—rents three billboards outside of the town to condemn the local police for not finding the man who murdered her teenage daughter one year prior. 

While the film has an extremely dark premise, McDonough’s script actually fuses drama with moments of black comedy. The humor is a natural result of the characters’ cynical personalities and the absurdity of certain situations. Despite hints of comedy, the film remains poignant and balances both tones considerably well.

Along with an excellent script, a stellar cast holds up the film. Rockwell’s performance as Officer Dixon is fantastic. Woody Harrelson, who plays Chief Willoughby, also gives a brilliant performance despite having limited screen time.

The highlight of the film is undoubtedly McDormand, who absolutely nails the part of Hayes. Hayes is a very complex character who can be grieving at one moment and delivering a crude, witty retort the next; she is constantly developing as the movie progresses. McDormand shows off an incredible range of emotion and attitude in her performance, and as a result her presentation truly brings the character to life.

As tensions rise throughout the town and Hayes begins to take more extreme measures to get her point across, the audience empathizes and supports Hayes as a result of the strength of McDormand’s performance. 

It is worthwhile to note that Hayes’ character is a breath of fresh air in an industry constantly critiqued for how it portrays women. Hayes is shown to be a resourceful, intelligent and goal-driven character who can often match and surpass the brains and brawn of all the men in the town combined. 

The production value of the film is excellent, despite having a fraction of the budget given to most Hollywood blockbusters. McDonough’s directions, combined with beautiful cinematography and an excellent score, make for a visually appealing movie. 

Despite so many aspects to praise, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri certainly isn’t perfect. The film’s pacing can sometimes grind to a halt, allowing for a few scenes that serve little purpose to the story, which becomes a tad boring. Moreover, some of the humor falls flat and can seem jarring when included in more dramatic scenes. 

These flaws, while noticeable at times, are far and few between. Overall, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a movie that deserves all of the praise it has been receiving. The film’s excellent cast, script and direction make it a must-see. As the award season continues, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri will definitely be a force to reckon with.