Movie Review : Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017)
Whenever something isn't going my way, I'm the first to blame others. There needs to be a scapegoat for my wrongdoings because I can't accept the entire responsibility of my own pain. That logic is why revenge stories are so popular. There is nothing more satisfying than cheering for someone to even the score, because we've got so many scores we secretly wish to even. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, nominated for this year's Oscar for Best Picture, is a movie that addresses these bizarre revenge fantasies. It's by no means a perfect movie. It's even awkward at times, but it's ultimately powerful and confronting.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is the story of Mildred Hayes, the grieving mother of Angela Hayes, who was raped and killed in stomach-churning circumstances several months before. Angry because no arrests have been made, Mildred buys three billboards on a deserted road outside of town, questioning police Chief Willoughby for his inaction. Instead of prompting law enforcement into her daughter's murder's case, the billboards is polarizing the town and putting added pressure on her. People want Willoughby, who's dying of cancer, to be left alone for his last couple months on this Earth.
Let me throw the pot before the flowers. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a fine movie, but it could've been great. Its themes of all-consuming anger and desire for vengeance are developed with awesome nuance and complexity, but the dialogue doesn't always live up to it. Sometimes, it even gets in the way. For example, there'a a scene where Mildred and her surviving son Robbie pass in front of the billboards and Robbie explains to her in every detail why they make him relive Angela's death. That scene needed to be silent. This is a case of the ol' telling vs showing in storytelling. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is undermined by dialogue-driven overexposition in many scenes.
Call me overzealous in my criticism for pointing that out, but I thought such display of insecurity kept that screenplay from being transcendent.
Now, for the good stuff. Because there's a lot to like about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. It notably plays with your perception of what a revenge movie can be. At first, Mildred's anger against Ebbing's impotent law enforcement seems righteous and empowering. But, as an unlikely support character says halfway into the movie : anger begets anger and nothing progresses until, well... I can't divulge that information, but let's just say the movie takes a sharp turn and other powerful emotions get involved in the case of Angela Hayes' rape and murder. Writer and director Martin McDonaugh goads you into thinking you're getting a conventional revenge movie only to confront you with something more uncomfortable and ultimately more real.
I don't think Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is going to win the Oscar for Best Picture, but it already won by being nominated. It's going to be seen by way more people than it would've otherwise and it'll challenge and inspire screenwriters to get out of their comfort zone. That ultimately is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri's legacy. To be studied in screenwriting classes and inspire even better movies somewhere down the line. It sure was a refreshing viewing experience that challenged one of the laziest narrative tropes there is today. Not a perfect movie by any means, but a memorable one anyway.