After her daughter is brutally raped and killed, a woman living in a small town erects three billboards that ask the local police chief why he’s not doing anything to solve the murder.
Blueprint Pictures and Fox Searchlight
I have much respect for writer/director Martin McDonagh. He’s a writer who has crossed the streams… hopped from theatre to film… many have done it before. And, many haven’t been so prolific… Oscar buzzed, to put it bluntly. He spent a few years across the pond being heralded as the “most acclaimed living playwrights in Ireland.” I love his play “The Pillowman”, and when it transferred to Broadway, it starred Billy Crudup, Jeff Goldblum, Željko Ivanek and Michael Stuhlbarg. Željko is in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. So yeah, I knew of Martin way before he made his splash on our side of the Atlantic pond. It’s what got my attention first. And, I quickly used my resources to find and read this film’s script. Because… that’s how I decide if the film is actually worth my time.
When I found out Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson were involved it became much easier to decide, that YES, I would see this. Even if the script was salty ham in tarter (sauce)… sometimes magical things happen once a screenplay is produced.
And, it was those three carried the film for me. It wasn’t that the dialogue or directing this time around… I just needed– I needed it to come to life. The screenplay itself read like a mess. The draft I read. And, as is the case with Aaron Sorkin… you need to see it performed or its just voices trading verbal Molotov cocktails back and forth. Sometimes funny, sometimes clever… sometimes just exhausting. Frances, Sam and Woody, all three performed their roles excellently. I never felt like they were playing a caricature of Missouri folk or angry woman or racist cop or overwhelmed police chief… I saw them deeply invested in their characters.
Sam Rockwell’s character, Officer Dixon, is seemingly lazy, and grossly incompetent. He took years to graduate from the academy. Despite wanting everyone to respect his authority, he blatantly abuses his position. Dixon is racist. There’s no doubt about it. McDonagh doesn’t give us a reason, nor did I want one. Usually writers show us to help audiences understand… wasn’t needed. What instead was needed and was executed perfectly was Dixon’s about face. His change of heart. Which in this reviewer’s opinion is SO HARD to pull off in an authentic way. But, Rockwell and McDonagh pull it off!
SPOILER ALERT HIGHLIGHT BELOW
Dixon receives a letter from the now deceased Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). Willoughby reminds him of his ambitions to become a detective. A bit later his change of direction has him instigating a fight and getting the living pulp beat out of him in order to obtain a DNA sample of someone he suspects of murdering the daughter of (Frances McDormand) Mildred Hayes.
The story does flow in a natural way. I valued the performances more than other elements, which elevated the script. And, the film.
I am a son,uncle, grandson, father, romantic, friend, dreamer, insightful, interested, confused, lost, found, there, here, knowledgeable, dumb, thoughtful, sportive, modest, arrogant, happy, sad, sneaky, subtle, nerdy, theatrical, cinematic and many other things. Not always in that order, not often all at the same time…but that's me. I am a Rochestarian...