“Raped and Burned”
“And still no Arrests”
“How come, Chief Willoughby?”
Printed on red billboards, these words set off a spark that sets of a flame of debate in Three Billboards Over Ebbing, Missouri, an unfiltered black comedy that asks difficult questions on channeling anger at an unjust world.
It’s been seven months since Angela Hayes (Kathryn Newton) was raped, murdered and burned and her mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) has had enough. So, she rents out the titular billboards to call out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and Ebbing’s police department over the lack of results. So, begins a chain of events that sends the town into chaos. It draws the media attention Mildred needs for the murder case, but it comes with many drawbacks. Most of the town objects to the billboards. They attract indignance from the Police Department, especially dimwitted, violent Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who’s determined to make Mildred’s life a living hell. But Mildred refuses to back down until she gets results.
Violence runs throughout the film. Mildred finds herself constantly targeted for her billboards, with threats and intimidation coming from Dixon and her ex-husband (John Hawkes). She responds in kind with her own brand of violence, both physical (drilling a hole in a dentist’s finger) and verbal (that glorious scene of her berating a reporter as she drives by). Speaking of verbal shots, writer/director Martin McDonagh weaves an array of unfiltered dialogue. The result is some hilarious, uncomfortable exchanges between characters.
Mildred: “How’s the N—–r torturing business coming along?”
Dixon: “It’s the people of colour torturing business.”
At the core of the film is anger and how it should be channeled. Mildred is outraged at the lack of justice for her daughter’s murder. But by taking it out on Willoughby, she fails to take into consideration that he can only do so much. As Willoughby points out, her suggestions to solve the case violates civil liberties. Considering she left an abusive relationship with her ex-husband (John Hawkes), you can understand where she’s coming from. Then a flashback suggests her motivation comes from guilt over a shameful thing she said to Angela. And yet, Mildred’s anger gathers the gather media attention she needs to reopen her daughter’s case.
Then halfway into the film, Chief Willoughby makes a decision that turns the narrative into an unexpected direction. I won’t give too much away, but it forces everyone to revaluate how they channel their emotions. Since then, the audience is kept guessing the direction the film will go. McDonagh never disappoints with twists that are unexpected yet make sense. In the end, the audience is left with a difficult question of whether our heroes are doing the right thing.
The result is a dark, hilarious morality play of justice and retribution. With many hilarious, relatable characters, unhinged dialogue and brilliant storytelling, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri gets the audience talking after two hours of laughing. This film on the top of the list of best pictures nominees.
 Check out Screen Prism’s excellent video essay about this film. There are spoiler’s so watch the film 1st before checking it out.