Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri movie review: A raging masterpiece that defines our times. 5 stars

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri movie review: Martin McDonagh has made a furious masterpiece, held aloft by one of the most iconic female performances in years. All hail Frances McDormand.
By Rohan Naahar | Hindustan Times, New Delhi
UPDATED ON FEB 23, 2018 08:01 PM IST

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director - Martin McDonagh
Cast - Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage
Rating - 5/5

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an anomaly. It shouldn’t exist. There is not a single moment in its less than two-hour runtime that feels like something you’ve already seen, or experienced, or have had relayed to you by a pompous friend. And as the world becomes more hopeless and trips to cinema end more often in disappointment than joy, this is a sign straight from above – there is magic to be found still; it’s out there, somewhere, waiting for you to make a mistake.

Sure, on the surface, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri might remind you of something by Coen Brothers – star Frances McDormand, who, with Mildred Hayes, has given Marge Gunderson a companion for life, isn’t the only connective tissue – but despite these strictly superficial similarities it is as much a product of a singular voice – that of writer-director Martin McDonagh – than, say, No Country for Old Men is a Coen Brothers movie.

Woody Harrelson and Frances McDormand in a still from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Woody Harrelson and Frances McDormand in a still from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Three Billboards – we’re going to have to abbreviate henceforth, for obvious reasons – is a real movie, filled with real, complex characters that go on personal and collective journeys. Unlike most years, when the Oscars race usually boils down to one mainstream film against an indie, 2018 is different. We have a selection of fine smaller films exchanging hesitant looks, and wondering, “Is this it?” And each of them – be it Three Billboards, or Call Me By Your Name, or The Shape of Water, or Lady Bird, or Phantom Thread – is defined by one virtue: Empathy, something the world desperately needs more of, now more than ever.

Films these days don’t seem to spend enough time developing characters; it’s all about arriving at the next big moment and hitting mandated beats. And you’d be hard pressed to find another movie this year – or any other year – that challenges the norm more aggressively. The gigantic leap of faith that Three Billboards demands of its audience – bigger, I’d say, than what is required of you to accept the central romance in The Shape of Water – is almost unheard of these days.

So often, you can almost imagine directors – or more likely, studios – frantic at the thought of losing the audience for even a minute because of a, let’s say, difficult scene. So often, we see movies flirt with greatness only to falter at key moments, retreating into the safety of familiarity. But not here. Not in Ebbing, Missouri.

Frances McDormand could have easily had a career as celebrated as that of Meryl Streep.
Frances McDormand could have easily had a career as celebrated as that of Meryl Streep.

The movie tells the story of the insular small town deep in the heart of Trump territory, and the many lost souls whose lives are brought together after one particularly tragic incident. A grieving mother (played by the electrifying Frances McDormand), furious at the inaction surrounding the investigation into the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, erects three billboards along a forgotten road. In the signs, which she rents out for a year, she questions local police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) directly, and demands answers. “Raped while dying,” the signs say, “And still no arrests? How come, Chief Willoughby?”

Right now, the conversation within the film community is overwhelmingly about the cultural turning point we’re experiencing with regards to stories about women, and the marginalised. There is no way Three Billboards will ever have the sort of impact movies such as Wonder Woman, or more recently, Black Panther will. But would you believe it, three billboards – just like the ones in the movie – have started popping up around the world. While some demand reform in American gun laws, another, outside London’s Grenfell tower questions, “71 dead. And still no arrests? How Come?”

Sounds like a movement, doesn’t it?

Frances McDormand and Peter Dinklage in a still from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Quietly, McDonagh has done so much for dwarf actors.
Frances McDormand and Peter Dinklage in a still from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Quietly, McDonagh has done so much for dwarf actors.

Three Billboards has a lot on its mind – child abuse, domestic abuse, racism, corruption, sexuality, religion, gender – that on multiple occasions, it almost seems to be bursting at the seams – with a rage that is nearly impossible to find anymore, and when witnessed, impossible to ignore, or forget.

It could be argued that McDonagh has bitten off more than he can chew – both his previous features were ambitious, but nowhere near as ambitious as this. And this is coming from someone who would ten times out of ten pick In Bruges as one of his favourite movies of the last decade. But here, McDonagh sets the bar so impossibly high for himself that it’s a bit of a shock that he succeeds at all. The overwhelming consensus, wisely, would be to avoid making jokes about rape. And it would be just as wise to not expect audiences to sympathise with racists. But both things happen in this movie. You’re going to be laughing in a story about death – violent, sickening death, and sexual violence – and by the end you’re going to be rooting for a character that embodies the worst mankind has to offer.

These are delicate themes, and the slightest bad decision can destroy a movie (at best), and careers (at worst). But McDonagh isn’t interested in half measures. He isn’t interested in writing within templates. To make great art, the artist must put everything on the line. And everyone involved in this picture – from Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, who will win Oscars, to Carter Burwell, whose soft piano cushions some of the film’s fury – is aiming for greatness. And as always, McDonagh insists that we, as a people, despite our general unpleasantness, can still be redeemed. One person at a time. He’s going to start at the bottom and work his way to the top.

Like his previous movies, Three Billboards strives for such a microscopic sweet spot tonally that the fact that it not only finds it, but sustains it for two hours, is miraculous. It not only aspires towards greatness, but confronts it, screams at it, and when it has everyone’s attention, revels in it. It’s a profane and profound masterpiece that will evolve into a time capsule of sorts, when things get better. Bring your children.

Watch the Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri trailer here

Follow @htshowbiz for more
The author tweets @htshowbiz for more

SHARE THIS ARTICLE ON
Close
Saif Ali Khan with his kids Ibrahim and Sara.
Saif Ali Khan with his kids Ibrahim and Sara.

Watch how Saif-Kareena's home was turned into party venue for Ibrahim's birthday

PUBLISHED ON MAR 08, 2021 09:26 AM IST
Saif Ali Khan threw a cool and trippy 20th birthday party for his son Ibrahim Ali Khan last week. The actor transformed his new home into a neon-infused party venue.
Close
Rubina Dilaik and Paras Chhabra will feature in a music video.
Rubina Dilaik and Paras Chhabra will feature in a music video.

Rubina Dilaik is back at work, shares BTS pics of song shoot with Paras Chhabra

PUBLISHED ON MAR 08, 2021 09:24 AM IST
  • Bigg Boss 14 winner Rubina Dilaik and Bigg Boss 13's Paras Chhabra are coming together for a music video. See their pictures and videos from the shoot.
Close
Suhana Khan with a friend.
Suhana Khan with a friend.

Suhana Khan gives star vibes as she poses with a friend in New York

By HT Entertainment Desk, New Delhi
PUBLISHED ON MAR 08, 2021 08:57 AM IST
  • Shah Rukh Khan's daughter Suhana Khan dropped a new picture with a friend and upped her glamour game. She is currently in New York.
Close
Priyanka Chopra finally met Nick Jonas and his parents in London.
Priyanka Chopra finally met Nick Jonas and his parents in London.

Priyanka is reunited with Nick, her in-laws in London, wears sweater made by mom

PUBLISHED ON MAR 08, 2021 08:19 AM IST
Priyanka Chopra was reunited with her husband, singer Nick Jonas in London, where she is currently filming her upcoming series, Citadel.
Close
Prince Harry during his interview with Oprah.
Prince Harry during his interview with Oprah.

Prince Harry says his father, Prince Charles, stopped taking his calls

Reuters
UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2021 08:33 AM IST
Prince Harry has said that his father stopped taking his calls and denied 'blindsiding' his grandmother, the Queen.
Close
Meghan Markle has spoken about her equation with the royal family.
Meghan Markle has spoken about her equation with the royal family.

'The Queen was always wonderful to me': Meghan Markle on Oprah

UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2021 08:05 AM IST
Meghan Markle and Prince Harry's interview with Oprah Winfrey aired in the US on Monday morning. The Duchess has revealed how the Buckingham Palace was often ready to throw her under the bus to protect other members of the royal family.
Close
Meghan Markle during her interview with Oprah,
Meghan Markle during her interview with Oprah,

Meghan reveals how Kate Middleton made her cry before wedding to Prince Harry

Reuters
UPDATED ON MAR 08, 2021 07:24 AM IST
Meghan Markle, on her interview with Oprah Winfrey with Prince Harry, has revealed details from her royal wedding and the moment she shared with Kate Middleton, the Duchess of Cambridge.
Close
Vidya Balan’s last release was the Shakuntala Devi biopic.
Vidya Balan’s last release was the Shakuntala Devi biopic.

Vidya Balan says she 'hated her body' when her weight became a 'national issue'

PUBLISHED ON MAR 08, 2021 07:06 AM IST
  • Actor Vidya Balan has said that it has taken her time to accept her body because, at one point in her life, she used to hate it.
Close
Actor Divya Dutta has multiple projects set to release and be shot in the year 2021.
Actor Divya Dutta has multiple projects set to release and be shot in the year 2021.

Divya Dutta: I was jumping like a kid after coming back on set after so many months

By Rishabh Suri
PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 11:22 PM IST
Actor Divya Dutta considers it a ‘blessing’ to be able to work again after the ‘crazy circumstances’ which took place in the Covid pandemic.
Close
Actor Bindiya Goswami and filmmaker JP Dutta with their daughter Nidhi Dutta and son-in-law Binoy Gandhi
Actor Bindiya Goswami and filmmaker JP Dutta with their daughter Nidhi Dutta and son-in-law Binoy Gandhi

Nidhi Dutta: I will count myself lucky if Binoy and I can be half as happy as my parents are

UPDATED ON MAR 07, 2021 10:18 PM IST
The actor talks about her dream wedding, the importance of relationship and what she hopes she got from her parents
Close
You have to keep hammering the thought of equality and keep putting it out there constantly, Bhumi says.
You have to keep hammering the thought of equality and keep putting it out there constantly, Bhumi says.

Bhumi Pednekar: Women are a far cry from being equal to men

UPDATED ON MAR 07, 2021 10:11 PM IST
On International Women’s Day (March 8), Bhumi Pednekar stresses upon the fact that “being a woman in today’s world, comes with a lot of responsibility”
Close
Kangana Ranaut with Vikas Bahl.
Kangana Ranaut with Vikas Bahl.

Kangana thanks Vikas for his role in her career despite their personal equation

UPDATED ON MAR 07, 2021 09:38 PM IST
  • Kangana Ranaut, who earlier accused Vikas Bahl of inappropriate behaviour, thanked him for turning her career around with Queen. She said that he 'played a very significant role' in shaping her destiny.
Close
Shahid Kapoor and Mira Rajput took the Centre of Gravity challenge.
Shahid Kapoor and Mira Rajput took the Centre of Gravity challenge.

Shahid Kapoor nails Centre of Gravity challenge with Mira Rajput, watch video

UPDATED ON MAR 07, 2021 08:32 PM IST
  • Shahid Kapoor aced the Centre of Gravity challenge, much to the surprise of his wife Mira Rajput, who called him a 'smooth operator'. Watch the video here.
Close
Sonakshi Sinha plays a tough cop in her debut web series.
Sonakshi Sinha plays a tough cop in her debut web series.

Sonakshi debuts fierce cop look from Amazon series, Huma has a funny response

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 07:32 PM IST
  • Sonakshi Sinha, who plays a tough cop in her debut web series, shared her first look from the show on the eve of International Women's Day. See it here.
Close
Aaliya Siddiqui had filed for divorce from her husband Nawazuddin Siddiqui last year.
Aaliya Siddiqui had filed for divorce from her husband Nawazuddin Siddiqui last year.

Nawazuddin Siddiqui's wife Aaliya ready to resolve issues with Shamas Siddiqui

PUBLISHED ON MAR 07, 2021 07:07 PM IST
  • Nawazuddin Siddiqui's wife Aaliya has reaffirmed her wish to reconcile with the actor in a new interview, adding that she is ready to mend her ties with his brother Shamas.
Close
SHARE
Story Saved
OPEN APP