Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the best movie I’ve seen this year, by far. Frances McDormand plays a beautiful mess of a grieving mother; yes, Mildred Hayes is no-nonsense and tough-as-nails, uncompromising in her crusade to bring her daughter’s rapist and murderer to justice, but only because she is broken on a fundamental level, compulsively projecting her gnawing feelings of guilt onto those around her, and the actress mines great drama out of the rare occasions when that facade comes crashing down.
A lesser scribe might have called it a day after crafting such a superb protagonist, but writer-director Martin McDonagh (who also penned the darkly comic masterpiece In Bruges) finds just as much nuance in every single major character: Woody Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby, the primary target of Mildred’s vendetta, isn’t some cartoon villain, but a loving husband and father, haunted by his failure to solve the crime and justifiably upset at being singled out; and even Sam Rockwell’s thuggish, simple-minded Officer Dixon, who’s earned a reputation for abusing black suspects, isn’t completely beyond redemption. Consequently, the conflict between these flawed-yet-relatable human beings is richly complex, devoid of any easy answers… which makes the film’s impact linger long after you leave the theater.
[Originally written November 12, 2017.]