Ok. Let’s first agree, sight unseen, that this movie should have been named “Three Billboards” and not “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri Where the Weather is Mild Today: Partially Sunny with Winds Out of the Northwest and Highs in the Low 60’s, Grab a Sweater!” Ok. Got that off my chest. What did I think of the movie?
Billboards3 as it is known in cooler circles…Ryan will tell you that something raised to the third power is not three of that thing, but like I said…cooler circles…was a really smart and powerful movie. One specific quirk kept it from being truly great, but overall it is definitely worth seeing.
What did I enjoy most about it? The acting performances really stood out. Now don’t get me wrong… This wasn’t in my “Dallas Buyers Club” category where the movie is all about spotlighting great acting and not really about the story. Billboards3 was a smart story with some really clever dialogue, but still a script where the actors outshine the material. The core complaint is that though this is marketed as a dark comedy, they drama is so powerful that it makes the comedy seem trivial.
Leading the pack was Frances McDormand in a strong performance that plays well to her ability to nail both drama and comedy. McDormand may be one of the most versatile actresses in Hollywood and this role really lets her show her chops.
McDormand plays the grieving mother of a daughter who was raped and murdered. When the investigation stalls, McDormand decides to light a fire by renting three billboards antagonizing the local police. Playing a member of the rural working class, sometimes her chess moves are savvy, other times blunt as a hammer. In either approach her character takes, McDormand is delightful.
McDormand is well supported by the rest of the cast. The cast member getting the most buzz is Sam Rockwell, who chews the scenery as a violent and, at times, dim-witted local cop. Hanging onto his position by the grace of the local sheriff, Rockwell embodies the town’s rage at the raising of the billboard. His raging id delivers a cruel and violent response to McDormand’s plans.
Sadly, Rockwell’s performance illustrates the film’s key weakness. Rockwell’s character is a deplorable monster but the comedic manner in which the film often uses him makes everything seem slightly disjointed. I am all about complex and nuanced characters, but the deputy is a real monster and should not be the comic relief. I love Rockwell, and want to see him win an Oscar, but I don’t think this is the role where he should get one.
Not that there shouldn’t be an Oscar contender for Best Supporting Actor in Billboards3 . Woody Harrelson’s Sheriff Willoughby, the man named on the billboards, absolutely steals the show.
Willoughby is the real nuanced character here. While Rockwell is matching McDormand’s blunt moves, the Sheriff matches her savvy moves. Harrelson is amazing as he not only faces the shame of the billboards, but also enjoys the remaining time he has left with his young family as he battles terminal cancer.
Harrelson’s performance defies the rural Southern sheriff stereotype and the film is richer for it. Every line of dialogue he delivers has impact, but one scene in particular stands out as truly great. If he is lucky enough to get a nomination, that’s his Oscar scene.
The rest of the cast creates a rich, small town feel. Of note, while I enjoyed Peter Dinkalge’s role as a local man who admires McDormand, I was disappointed that the film plays his size for laughs. Even Adam Sandler’s Pixels was more respectful…
Overall, I give Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 8 Really Long Titles For a Smart Movie That Can’t Figure Out If It Is a Comedy Or a Drama out of 10.
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