I have to admit that I was dragged to this one. The preview gave me the impression that it was in the One Righteous Woman on a Crusade genre with an extra scoop of hatred of religion, and I just had no interest in that.
Fortunately, I wrong. There is a woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), and she is on a crusade, although your perception of how righteous it is will likely change as the film progresses.
“Raped While Dying”
“And Still No Arrests?”
“How Come, Chief Willoughby?”
Those are the messages Mildred places on the three billboards, seven months after her daughter’s murder. They set tongues in the small town of Ebbing a-waggin’. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is a popular fellow, and it’s an open secret that he’s dying of cancer.
The film wasn’t at all what I thought it was going to be. The act of placing the billboards triggers a series of events that is often less about an unsolved murder than it is about life’s strange twists and turns. What looks on paper (and in the trailers) like a joyless affair is actually infused with a lot of dark comedy and even some joyful moments.
I wouldn’t have gone in with such trepidation had I realized that the film was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who previously did In Bruges. I haven’t seen In Bruges, but I know what it’s about and it has been highly recommended to me by people who are similarly unlikely to be interested in what I thought this movie was.
And let me in turn highly recommend Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to you. Great performances all around, and a good script that trips over itself a few times but manages to sell you on most of it anyway.