‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ review: The best and worst of humanity

MANILA, Philippines – Director Martin McDonagh has always been obsessed with psychopaths and their capacity for some inkling of redemption since his short, Six Shooter (2004).

In Six Shooter, a recent widower (Brendan Gleeson) encounters an affable man with very peculiar social graces aboard a passenger train. Through their conversations and that man’s other encounters with other passengers – all of whom have gone through their respective tragedies – it becomes apparent that there is more to the man’s misanthropy than meets the eye. Perhaps the film’s triumph is its ability to eke a bit of humanity out of the most abhorrent of humans.

 

Discomfortingly real and relevant

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has McDonagh at it again in his attempt to carve every bit of humanity out of the bleakest of locations. (READ: 'Three Billboards' tops Baftas as 'Time's Up' campaign shares stage)

The film opens with Mildred (Frances McDormand) eying 3 billboards stretched across the side of an idle highway. The mother of a girl whose rape and subsequent murder haven't been solved by the local police, she proceeds to her town’s advertising company to rent the 3 billboards to carry a message that she hopes will push the police to work harder to close her daughter’s case. Her billboards however have a different effect, as they urge the town and its residents to reveal their darker edges.

MOTHER FIRST. (From L-R) Samara Weaving, John Hawkes. and Frances McDormand.

MOTHER FIRST. (From L-R) Samara Weaving, John Hawkes. and Frances McDormand.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri however is disarmingly brimming with levity in its exploration of humanity’s aptitude for grave enmity. McDonagh molds a town that thrives amidst the seething loathing among its residents, making it seem that the town could pass as a microcosm of today’s fragile world, where slivers of tolerance are what keeps everything still intact despite the abundance of hatred.

The film, despite its parable-like grooves, feels too close to home. It is discomfortingly real and surprisingly relevant. (READ: 7 reasons to see 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri')

Great ensemble

It helps that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has quite an impressive ensemble of actors to portray its somewhat demented characters with some measure of pathos. 

McDormand is amazing here. Hers is a nuanced performance – one that weaves together grief, anger, empathy and pride through minute changes in her face, through a slight wrinkling of an eye, through a subtle curving that looks almost like a smile. She plays a very complex character. Mildred isn’t exactly a heroine. Her struggle, while commendable, railroads other people’s emotions. However, McDormand, by sheer charisma and a quaint understanding of her character’s complications, turns her character’s grey areas into entry points for discourse. 

 

ONE-ON-ONE TALK. Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in a confrontation scene for 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.'

ONE-ON-ONE TALK. Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in a confrontation scene for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

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Sam Rockwell, who plays the film’s other prominent psychopath, is suspiciously endearing here. He is a goofball, a good-for-nothing mama’s boy who cluelessly abuses his power for whatever inexplicable reason. McDonagh rightfully gives his character a bit of salvation and, perhaps, it is that narrative turn that grants the film its hopeful groove as it spins inherent misanthropy into something in the arena of comedy. Woody Harrelson, who plays Willoughby, the subject of Mildred’s 3 billboards, is a comforting presence, the voice of reason in the film’s frank display of humanity’s preoccupation with chaos.

 

GOOD SUPPORT CAST. Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in a scene from 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.'

GOOD SUPPORT CAST. Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in a scene from Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

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Capacity to change

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a sublime work, one that shows McDonagh painting on a broader canvass but still with such precise vision. It is a film that fits perfectly in today’s world of humanity coming to grips with all its sins and faded virtues. –Rappler.com

 

Francis Joseph Cruz litigates for a living and writes about cinema for fun. The first Filipino movie he saw in the theaters was Carlo J. Caparas' Tirad Pass. Since then, he's been on a mission to find better memories with Philippine cinema.