“Three Billboards” Review


A highly enjoyable, brutally sad gift

This film review contains spoilers.


“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a tough movie, but a masterfully crafted one at that. If someone graphed the emotional arc of this film, it would, without a doubt, resemble the Great Depression. Things just love getting worse in this movie. While the content is morbid, possibly to an excessive degree, the film itself builds a compact story that lands with resonance, moved forward by character motivation and the resolution.

“Three Billboards” is undoubtedly a character-driven story, as is shown in the trailer. The origin of the plot comes from Mildred Hayes (played by Frances McDormand) when she sets up her infamous billboards. For a story to be good, the actions performed by the characters must be believable; they must have motivation. And motivation is something “Three Billboards” locked down.

The film’s proficiency in establishing motivation is evident in one of its later scenes, when Mildred torches the police department with Officer Dixon (played by Sam Rockwell) still inside. Mildred’s motivation is clearest and actually fairly consistent throughout the film: She wishes to gain notoriety so her daughter’s rape and murder will be solved more quickly.

The motivation of Dixon (caught inside the police department) isn’t revealed until the last moment. Once he recognizes the danger of the nearing fire, he leaps through the burning window with one item to save: Mildred’s daughter’s case file. This unveils his motivation: to save the file and solve the case, parallel to Mildred’s motivation.

The significance of these motivations and how they complement the film as a whole comes from their juxtaposition. Mildred, in order to solve her daughter’s murder, justifies violence toward the police. Dixon, in order to solve the murder, is willing to put himself at great risk for the accrued evidence. This creates empathy for Dixon, established through his selflessness, and an overall air of tragedy, since Mildred is unknowingly harming her chances of resolution. This is what makes the film’s usage of motivation so impressive: the origin of tragedy is directly related to the actions of its characters. No third party or contrived reason is needed for tragedy; the characters create their own.

Much of the movie deals with the idea of searching for closure where, possibly, none exists. Endings that aren’t truly endings constantly appear in this film.

When Dixon and Mildred find themselves driving to the house of the supposed murderer, the film ends. It doesn’t resolve that conflict. It is not even known if they will kill this unnamed character for revenge or not. This ending was crucial for the question the movie had been asking: How does one find closure where none is to be found? Whether or not Dixon and Mildred kill their targeted man or whether Mildred’s daughter’s killer is found simply doesn’t matter. What does matter is finding closure regardless — and now, with the given ending, the audience also faces this dilemma.

“Three Billboards” is nominated for seven Oscars. Whether it comes away with all or none of them is soon to be decided, but nonetheless, the film is worth a watch. It may not be a happy film, but it’s one that has a lot say, in an eloquent way, about foul and sad days.


Written by: Nicolas Rago — arts@theaggie.org