The 2018 Golden Globes awards confirmed what was already in the air: Martin McDonagh has pulled off a great crime-inspired drama in a much-needed environment of poor movies and unoriginal stories. At the Globes, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri outclassed all its competitor in the Best Motion Picture, Drama category. Frances McDormand also won best film actress for her work in the film, while writer-director Martin McDonagh deservedly took home the best screenplay award, and Sam Rockwell won best supporting film actor, giving Three Billboards a total of four awards.
The plot of Three Billboards focuses on the uncovered truth behind the killing of a young girl in Ebbing, Missouri. That’s the backstory, and it is sustained solidly throughout the movie as all of the characters rely on this off-screen assumption. Mildred Hayes – the main character, sharply played by Frances McDormand – is the mother of the murdered girl whose killer has yet to be discovered. It has been a year since Mildred’s daughter was murdered and any lead has gone cold and the police seems clueless about how to proceed. So absent, that Mildred feels the need to take the matter into her own hands. In response to the unjust development of the investigations, and seeing the local forces sloppy and lazy in relation to the case, McDormand’s character rents three billboards that she uses as a provocation to police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). One reads “Raped While Dying”, followed by “Still no arrests?” and “How come. Chief Willoughby”. Three strong statements that are set to unravel a path of sometimes forcedly twists in a story that it is pretty much a meditation about coping with loss, grief and the unbalanced and endless dance of war between sexes.
The billboards attract from they attract the fellow citizens’ outrage, as the entire village is openly on the side of police chief Willoughby, particularly since there’s word of mouth that he’s suffering for an advanced stage of cancer. For most of its running time, Three Billboards feels like a two-character game as Mildred and Chief Willoughby battles on the reasons of the billboards and their consequences on the public opinion. What makes everything more real, however, is that there isn’t - for a single moment - the feeling that both characters are actually and personally in fight against each other
McDonagh gives enough clues to the idea that Mildred and Willoughby are actually longtime friends who find themselves in trying to defend matters they really care about. Willoughby’s character - specifically - seems to be the only not corrupted cop in town that actually really cared about finding Mildred’s daughter murdered. A third player comes into the game as we are introduced to Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) as he enters by the most interesting journey as a character in the whole movie. Starting off as an inept at police job and a not so decent man with a gun in his pocket, he goes through a very believable journey of redemption to eventually become the most likable character in the movie and making the narration even more believable.
Three Billboards kicks off as a really strong and provocative movie and it is accompanied throughout by its brilliant script and its sharp directing choices. As the plot reaches its third act, however, things start to go a bit off the rail as more implications in the solving of the murder case come in the way and characters make unexpected and polarising choices. In the end, Three Billboards doesn’t feel like a common movie as it persistently decides not to follow usual cinematographic rules. Is it then necessarily a bad move? Martin McDonagh doesn’t think so and his choices actually turned Three Billboards into an irony-fueled adventure of real-life events.
Refusing to follow the ground rules of cinematography, Three Billboards successfully achieves a higher similarity with a real-life narrative, with its unpredictable and weirdness of characters. It makes the whole experience of going to the cinema once again surprisingly refreshing and sets itself to be a big player in the Academy Awards.