Reviewed by: Ryan McLelland

It is usually a very rare occasion that I see a trailer for a film that I’ve never heard of and then become totally obsessed with the movie. The first time I saw the trailer for Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri I KNEW I HAD to see this film. It was a red band trailer but it wasn’t just the profuse amount of profanity that sold me. It wasn’t just that it was a new movie from In Bruges director Martin McDonough. It wasn’t just another great movie starring Frances McDormand playing what looked to be another Academy Award winning role. It wasn’t just the cast that included Peter Dinklage, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. It was just a kickass trailer that sold the hell out of the plot. Everything else was just icing on the cake.

I love McDormand. She really reminds me of Ben Kingsley who can just be amazing in any movie no matter how good or bad it is. For every Almost Famous and Fargo there’s a Aeon Flux or Transformers to back it up. She should seriously do a DC Comics movie next. While I enjoy McDormand in films I usually don’t seek out films that she is in because she is in it. If she pops up I’m like, “Hey! COOL!” But I’m not rushing out to see a Frances McDormand movie. The problem with Three Billboards was that the movie came out and I was unable to go see it. It was limited release and nowhere near me. Granted I could have taken the train up to Manhattan to see the film but I thought I could wait until it came to local theaters to check out.

I did find that the film was very much unable to deliver on what the trailer had promised. What looked like a dark comedy full of foul language was really a dark drama with foul language. What’s the difference? If you’ve watched the red band trailer you get a sense of a woman trying to jumpstart the case of her murdered daughter sprinkled with a ton of bad behavior and very colorful language. It did seem that some of the best dialogue and best scenes were long revealed in that trailer. If you go into the theater expecting to get a whole movie full of that trailer, like I did, you will be mistaken.  It’s like when you drive up to the dealership expecting a 2018 Porsche and drive off in a 2007 Ford Focus.  There’s a bit of a difference.

Now the movie isn’t bad. Far from it. Does the movie grade worse because it wasn’t what I was expecting? It does grade worse but not because of my expectations. It is just a much slower film that has a decent plot for a movie with no story. What I mean by this is there truly is no three act structure here. The film drops you right into the film like you are just dropping right into these people’s lives. Some two hours later you are dropped back out. That’s it.

The film centers around Mildred Hayes (McDormand) who decides to rent out three billboards that run one after another on some east jabip road right near where she lives. The billboards haven’t been used for years but Mildred rents them to basically shame the local police department who have had no leads on her daughter’s murder. This leads to a rash of shit from Mildred’s fellow townpeople.

Not because they aren’t interested in the murder but because the billboards attack local hero police chief Bill Wiloughby (Woody Harrelson). The billboards infuriate most including Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) and even Mildred’s own son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) who is having a hard enough time just trying to get over his sister’s death.  The billboards don’t really have the effect that Mildred was hoping for and so she is forced to up her game after a local tragedy occurs. Not deterred, Mildred decides to go down a path to do what it takes to keep the case in the spotlight. Even if it means she ends up in prison as well.

Watching the trailer one can’t help to think to themselves, “My God, McDormand is going to win an Oscar for this performance!” It at least crossed my mind. Seeing the film I will say that McDormand is really good in the film . I can’t take that away from her. But it is actually a performance full of nuance. Again – I think the best parts of the film are right there in the trailer so you get your butt to the theater. In that, the marketing worked. But once in theaters you see a very different Mildred Hayes. She’s still a tragic figure but there’s a big difference between the dark comedy and the drama. Do I still see a nomination for McDormand? Possibly…but I just don’t care if she does or not. I wasn’t blown away by the performance.

I loved Woody Harrelson’s performance. It isn’t a huge role for him but he really makes the most out of it. He truly reminded me why he’s been nominated for two Academy Awards in the past. You feel his pain as the Chief who truly wants to solve every single crime for the people he serves but knows that isn’t always possible. There’s other mitigating factors going on in Wiloughby’s life right now that only double once those billboards go up.

Truly outstanding was Sam Rockwell but as he is an actor I love watching it is all the more satisfying to see him in a role like this. His Dixon is a racist cop who really is just a dopey, dumb fellow who would rather drink himself to death and read comic books. He’s definitely not a good cop and has probably never been any good to society even though he serves the people. Out of all the characters in this film, Dixon is the one that really feels like he gets an arc. He has growth. Which is weird in a film like this. You would think that Mildred Hayes would have that arc since the film is about her. But that doesn’t really happen. The change happens in Dixon. Rockwell? He is just able to play this character, with all the different feelings and emotions, beautifully. It was an amazing role.

The film is just littered with talent like Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes (The Sessions), Abbie Cornish (Geostorm! Um….the new Robocop movie…! SUCKER PUNCH! Look…she’s a great actress who doesn’t pick great projects), and Clarke Peters (The Wire). I loved seeing Caleb Landry Jones in this film – I don’t know much of his work but I really loved him as Banshee from X-Men First Class. While I’m unfamiliar with Hugo Weaving’s niece Samara Weaving I will say that she is not only beautiful but had great comedic timing. She made me laugh several times which really surprised me. I didn’t expect that so it was refreshing when she was onscreen.

Ultimately the movie is a decent drama that may get better over multiple viewings. While it wasn’t the movie I was promised I will still say that I was entertained and thought the flick well done. I’m sure McDormand will receive accolades for her performance but I think that the attention should really be pointed at Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. They both turned in very different performances as two very different cops that really made an impression on me.  Come awards season I wouldn’t be surprised if Rockwell is giving several awards speeches for his role.

I wavered between giving this film a B or a B-.  Ultimately I decided on…

RATING: B

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