Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Last Updated on July 30, 2021

This was originally reviewed as part of our TIFF 2017 coverage.

PLOT: After her daughter is raped and murdered, and over a year passes without any arrests, a Missouri woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents three billboards accusing beloved local police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) of ignoring her case.

REVIEW: Martin McDonagh is like the Shakespeare of profanity. His movies, IN BRUGES and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, have become instantly iconic for their now-classic exchanges, and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI follows in those footsteps. More in-line with IN BRUGES than the satiric SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS, this one showcases jaw dropping, great performances from stars Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.

What’s so interesting about McDonagh’s work here is the three-dimensionality of the characters, with no one being all good or all bad. McDormand’s Mildred Hayes is our plucky heroine, and while eminently likable, she also has a mean streak a mile wide, and tends to fly off the handle in ways that put others in jeopardy. The same goes for Woody Harrelson’s lovable chief, who’s dying of cancer and has an adoring Aussie wife (Abbie Cornish) and two cute kids, but also employs an unrepentant racist (Sam Rockwell) on his staff, who’s infamous for having tortured a black prisoner.

In some ways, Rockwell is the most interesting of all of them. A racist clown, who’s too stupid to realize the futility of his hate, of all the arcs in the film his is the most surprising, as nothing quite goes down with him the way you think it will. To say anything more would ruin one of the most rewarding surprises in the film, but it’s a classic portrayal by Rockwell, and he’d be my choice for best supporting actor at the Oscars this year, assuming it makes the cut.

It certainly deserves to, with McDonagh weaving together a highly evocative tale of small town intrigue. Everyone comes to life, from the leads to the peripheral characters, including Caleb Landry Jones as the guy leasing the billboards, John Hawkes as Mildred’s wife-beating ex (and Samara Weaving as his ditsy new girlfriend), and more. Lucas Hedges also has a strong follow-up to his turn in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA as Mildred’s son, who’s arguably more mature than his mom, and with whom she shares a sharp-tongue and keen intellect.

More than anything, this is a star-turn for McDormand, who commands the screen as the potentially iconic Mildred. Lovable but imperfect, she’s a real-deal heroine for our times. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI ranks alongside NORMA RAE and SILKWOOD as far as gutsy, three-dimensional stories of strong women go, and in her (as well as Rockwell) McDonagh’s found another perfect vehicle for his dialogue. It’s among the most purely entertaining movies I’ve seen at TIFF this year, and poised to become a film with real staying power. As Mildred herself would say, it’s motherf***ing great!

Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri




About the Author

Chris Bumbray began his career with JoBlo as the resident film critic (and James Bond expert) way back in 2007, and he has stuck around ever since, being named editor-in-chief in 2021. A voting member of the CCA and a Rotten Tomatoes-approved critic, you can also catch Chris discussing pop culture regularly on CTV News Channel.