Review: Frances McDormand Triumphs in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

Ian Sloan ’21 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
With the beginning of this year’s Oscar season, the dramatic side of Hollywood will once again take center stage. The typical action blockbuster will now be alongside the heartfelt and impressive performances of Hollywood’s most talented actors and actresses. From now until 2018, independent films are the films to see that might win the golden statuette at the Academy Awards. Such is the case with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a film that is so well-crafted and performed that one cannot help but see it as an Oscar contender. With its spectacular writing and performances, especially from Francis McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a must-watch.

Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
Three Billboards tells the story of Mildred (Francis McDormand), whose daughter was raped and murdered in the town of Ebbing, Missouri. Mildred feels that the local law enforcement has not done enough to try to catch the killer, so she rents out three billboards with a message condemning them for their inaction. This angers not only the police but most of the residents of Ebbing who naturally side with the officers. This conflict is introduced right at the beginning of the film, showing Mildred paying the rent of the billboards. This early establishment of the film’s conflict not only sets the stage for the rest of the audience but quickly conveys Mildred’s outer struggle with those around her.
The only negative to introducing the main conflict so early is that there is no natural buildup or suspense leading up to it. The audience is thrust into this world not knowing the stakes and actually what is going on. Sure, the film fills in the blanks as it goes on, but the audience is initially confused about how personal this is for Mildred and the past gripes she has with the law enforcement. Even so, the early confusion does not hinder Mildred’s struggle in her environment. The audience may not initially know why or how deep Mildred’s problem is, but they definitely know that there is some sort of animosity.
Sam Rockwell and Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
This outer struggle is constant throughout the film because of the chemistry between the whole cast. The entire script is dynamic and heartfelt on its own but is guided by how well each actor plays off of one another in each scene. There is no moment where the actors’ deliveries fall flat. Every part of the dialogue in Three Billboards is necessary to the story and furthers the plot. The weight of the writing is successfully handled by writer and director Martin McDonagh. His vision is clearly conveyed through the relationship between revenge and forgiveness. This theme is brilliantly handled and is constantly addressed through key events in the film.
The relationship between revenge and forgiveness is further propelled by each actor’s performance. Whether it be Woody Harrelson doing all he can as Police Chief Willoughby or Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon, each actor conveys the struggles of their respective character flawlessly. Harrelson and Rockwell are great at being Mildred’s antagonists while showing the true human qualities of their characters. Other great performances come from Caleb Landry Jones as Red Welby, the billboard advertiser, Abbie Cornish as Chief Willoughby’s wife, Anne, and a minor role from Peter Dinklage.
Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Photo Credit: Fox Searchlight Pictures.
However, the standout—and potentially Oscar-worthy—performance comes from Frances McDormand as the film’s central character, Mildred. McDormand brings the greatest emotional presence to the film, connecting with the audience almost seamlessly. The audience is with Mildred every step of the way and sympathizes with her through every part of her conflict. McDormand also successfully shows Mildred’s inner struggle with herself. Undoubtedly, Mildred is at the forefront in grappling the balance of revenge and forgiveness, and McDormand takes that creative responsibility head-on. Undoubtedly, Three Billboards is Frances McDormand’s film and the audience is right alongside her as she copes with Ebbing and those who live there.
It is McDormand and the rest of the cast that make Three Billboards the spectacular film that it is. Its emotionally resonant writing gives the actors the motivation to give their great performances. As the Oscar season kicks into high gear, Francis McDormand, Martin McDonagh, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri may have already made its case.
Overall Grade: A
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