Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, or Three Billboreds?

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Review

Runtime: 155mins | Director: Martin McDonagh | Rating: 5 Stars

Before I sat down to write this review, I had the intention of eking my conclusion out to create some form of literary suspense. Having started writing just this second though, I can’t bring myself to do it.

This film is nothing short of a masterpiece, and you should go and see it as soon as possible.

Now that I’ve got that off my chest, I’ll elaborate on why.

Set in the small rural town of (yep, you guessed it) Ebbing, Missouri, the story tells of a mother, Mildred (Frances McDonagh), whose daughter was murdered. Despite this, the local police force was never able to solve the crime. Deeply dissatisfied by their attempts, Mildred purchases the rights to advertise on three disused billboards on which she calls the police department out for not having solved the crime. Following her bold move, the billboards cause a huge amount of controversy in Ebbing creating problems not only for the police department but for Mildred and her family themselves.

The primary reason I loved this film so much is down to the three main actors in it – Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell – and the sensational performances they give. Despite being an Oscar-winning actress and supposedly giving fantastic performances in films such as Fargo (which I am yet to see), I wasn’t familiar with her. Both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, however, I have been long-time fans of as I find them hilarious, yet also capable of giving truly compelling dramatic performances (for example, War for the Planet of the Apes and Moon respectively).

For me though, despite going in with a bias, Frances McDormand stole the show - her performance as Mildred is one of the best I have ever seen.

                                      *SPOILERS FROM HERE ON IN, BE WARNED*    
For the majority of the film, Mildred is an incredibly strong, independent and frankly insulting woman who you would never want to get on the wrong side of, which I loved. One second she is making assumptions about what she can and can’t put on the billboards and states “I assume you can’t use the words “f**k, piss or c**t” to which the man selling them timidly replies “… or anus”. Next, she is drilling a hole in the thumb of a dentist who demands that she takes the billboards down as it’s insulting to the police department. Then, she is giving a drunken speech to a priest calling the church out on child molestation and the culpability surrounding it. In short, she doesn’t give a damn and defies most gender stereotypes which have become far too prevelant in cinema, which itself, deserves credit.

That being said, throughout the film, we get fleeting glimpses into the lingering maternal side of Mildred where she briefly lets her guard down. My favourite example of this is when Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is questioning her over ‘The Thumb Incident’. During the questioning, Mildred riles him up to the point he starts to threaten her with long-term court proceedings which would be expensive meaning she couldn’t afford to keep the billboards up. Mid-conversation, however, he coughs blood into her face and frantically apologises and says it wasn’t intentional to which she immediately replies “it’s alright baby, I know” and calls for help whilst looking after him, despite the fact they had just been arguing, showing she still has an empathetic ‘soft side’. In many ways though, this is a sad sight to see as it shows us the woman Mildred could have been had her daughter not died and set her on the destructive path she has now resigned herself to.

The second reason I loved this film so much is that it is entirely morally grey – nothing is painted in black and white, nothing is simple and you don’t know yourself what is right or wrong. One second you find yourself sympathising with Mildred and her incomprehensible pain, then the next you think she’s gone too far when she starts neglecting her sons feelings and stating how her billboards “won’t be as effective after you croak” to Willoughby, who we discover has terminal cancer.

For me, this was very refreshing to see as one of my issues with film, in general, is that too often things are too clear cut which is unrepresentative of real life. We have all encountered situations where we aren’t sure what the right thing to do is and there are rarely happy endings, or if there are, they are short-lived. Pessimistic? Perhaps. True? Yes.

This is why, in particular, I loved the ending of the film. Throughout the story, Mildred and Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell - a racist, fallible police officer) do not get along at all. Despite their differences, their paths ultimately converge and they end up resolving their tensions and agree to go and murder a man they know is a rapist (the fate Mildred’s daughter suffered). Whilst they are driving en route to kill him, Mildred asks if he’s sure about this to which they both end up replying “not really” and the film then ends.

For me, this was the perfect ending as it epitomises the grey morality throughout; is it acceptable to murder someone you know is a rapist? Does it undermine Mildred’s loss if she causes someone else the same emotions? Do two wrong’s make a right? Will killing him appease Mildred’s sense of loss? Will avenging Mildred’s daughter redeem Dixon?

Who knows - these are all unanswerable questions, and ultimately, subjective.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, for me, should and will rank as one of the cinematic greats. Charged with dark humour (often in all the wrong places) in the typical fashion of Martin McDonagh, it is a story of loss, love and redemption and elicits the rawest of emotions. Not only that, but it is both Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell’s finest performance in my opinion, and that isn’t something which can be said lightly. If this doesn’t sweep up at the Oscar’s, a travesty has occurred. 

As I said before – it is a masterpiece.

To watch the trailer - click here.


  1. Great review! I really loved this film too - I hope it does well at the Oscar's! Keep up the good work :)

    1. Thank you for reading it and for the comment - I really appreciate it! I hope it does well at the Oscar's too - fingers crossed, eh?!


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