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“Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” Review

By Lindsey DeRoche; A&E Editor
On December 4, 2017

The Coen brothers seemed to pioneer cinema that flawlessly blended dark humor and emotion with films such as “Fargo” in 1996. But, since then, the industry has rarely seen a piece that is written with the sharpness and tact that allows for effective manipulation of audience emotion, as well as absurdist humor, to coexist peacefully on the silver screen.

“Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri,” which came out on November 10, brings back this brilliant see-saw of emotions, right along with its long-winded title. In addition, just as Frances McDormand starred in “Fargo,” she stars in “Three Billboards,” as well. However, this time around, McDormand plays a much darker, more brash main character: Mildred Hayes.

 The film begins with Hayes paying to have personalized messages displayed on three billboards on the outskirts of her hometown of Ebbing, Missouri. These jarring billboards are where the film not only gains its name, but give viewers a glimpse into Hayes’ backstory before the film started.

Hayes’ adolescent daughter, Angela, was raped and murdered months before the film’s beginning, and it is something that haunts her to the core. Frustrated by what she perceives as incompetence on the part of the town’s sheriff, Bill Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson), she uses the billboards to egg the officer and case on, asking why there still have not been any arrests or possible suspects in custody.

Understandably, Hayes is hellbent on finding her daughter’s assailant/murderer. What ensues is what one would expect: backlash from Willoughby and the Ebbing police department regarding the billboards. In addition, Hayes must face adversity in the form of the frustration of townspeople who side with Sheriff Willoughby, as well as loved ones who would like to forget the brutal details of Angela’s death and assault.

Written, directed and co-produced by British-Irish playwright/screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh, the synopsis for the film sounds like something morose and depressing. But don’t be fooled; you will laugh as hard you will fight back tears, as an array of characters (most notably Mildred Hayes) deliver some of the funniest lines in the history of cinematic dark humor.

McDormand and Harrelson are phenomenal standouts in “Three Billboards.” Their talent and ability to work with such a delicate brand of humor interact stunningly. One minute, Mildred Hayes will be verbally attacking a local priest, and the next, she will be riddled with regret and unbearable anguish, processing information from flashbacks of when her daughter was still with her.

Other stars, such as Peter Dinklage from “Game of Thrones,” also make humorous appearances in the film. The plot in “Three Billboards” is something refreshingly new and emotionally-evocative in a world of recycled and rehashed tropes. Brutal honesty, blistering black comedy and suffering in the aftermath of a violent atrocity is embedded into both the screenplay and the directing/acting of the film.

This film is not one to be ignored, or, for that matter, to let you ignore it. It is difficult to find in many mainstream theatres, and has had an Indie-esque release. But, this is a film worth driving a ways for. "Three Billboards" deserves to be on its own billboards. 

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