There’s lots to love about this film from Martin McDonagh, primarily the remarkable performance of Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes. Mildred’s daughter was murdered ten months before and, frustrated at the police’s inability to find the perpetrator, she uses three billboards on a quiet road to stir up action. Mildred is the kind of anti-hero that is usually male in Hollywood films, unapologetic in her one-eyed vengeance for her daughter. Unlike a more mainstream film, she doesn’t just do a Liam Neeson and annihilate all the baddies. We see the anger that has slowly built, that she no longer tries to repress, and the repercussions as she stops being a passive, grieving mother.
What gives the story depth are some of the other characters that exist in Mildred’s small world. Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is sympathetic but can’t find any leads to solve the case. Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is his opposite; slovenly, racist and prone to resolving any uneasiness about his failures with violence. James (Peter Dinklage) has a different kind of powerlessness but retains a kindness and empathy that Mildred seems to have lost amidst her grief.
This is not a crime drama; there are few sudden revelations, serendipitous discoveries of evidence or eleventh hour confessions. Perhaps surprisingly, it is a study of the evolution of two characters, who are forced to reflect on their emotions and what has brought them to this point in their lives. One is Mildred, whose path becomes slowly darker and more difficult, the other is a secondary character, who is given an opportunity to make a difference.
It mostly works. I know this film is receiving rave reviews from people whose opinion I respect but I found plot holes that stopped this feeling completely authentic for me. In a Lanthimos or Von Trier film, these leaps in credibility would be part of a stylised, metaphorical narrative layer that wouldn’t detract from the veracity of emotion and message being portrayed. In Three Billboards, which seems deeply rooted in social reality, it just seems sloppy and distracting.
Although enjoyable, and I would recommend it, I was left feeling short changed.
Have you seen this film? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.