There are three billboards in the movie Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. But there are also three letters. In addition, there are a multitude of moral issues that are thrown into the viewers face.
It’s as if writer/director Martin McDonagh wanted to create a litmus test for the viewer as to how they relate to moral quandaries. The film’s dark humor demands that the audience identify with characters that are not only not what they seem but also willing to totally jump sides in an ever-progressing series of changing loyalties.
Frances McDormand, in a part written for her, has some of the best lines as a broken-hearted mother mourning the death of her daughter. Woody Harrelson seems to be the antagonist in the first reel only to transform, at least in the eyes of the script, to a significant pillar of the small community of Ebbing, Missouri. The film was shot in North Carolina.
But it’s Sam Rockwell that displays the best arc as Deputy Dixon, a kind of Barney Fife hybrid goofball and redneck engineered for the new millennium. Three Billboards has a solid supporting cast surrounding McDormand’s bitter-tongued lead. But this is a movie with supporting-supporting actors holding down the tent tight around everybody else. Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, John Hawkes, Brendan Sexton III, Darrell Britt-Gibson and Peter Dinklage are among the ensemble that composes the odd denizens that live in a town where everybody knows everybody else’s business.
There are some superficial similarities to Fargo, but they’re all circumstantial. The original score by Carter Burwell evokes the similar small town vibe he gave his score for Fargo, and cinematographer Ben Davis captures landscapes in a manner consistent with the earlier Coen Brothers movie, itself mired in life in small towns and the countryside that surrounds them.
And yeah, Frances McDormand’s ®Oscar winning turn in Fargo was the reason McDonagh wrote his brilliant script in the first place.
By the resolution of Three Billboards some of the film’s conflicts have been mollified yet there have been such intricate plot twists as to render any opening impressions void.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is currently unwinding at area theaters.