While some of 2018’s Best Picture nominees rely on spectacle, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, reminds people that a tight script and brilliant performances will always outshine visual effects or a flashy set design.
Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a single mother whose daughter was raped and murdered prior to the events of the film. Hayes blames the local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), for failing to investigate the crime, so she rents out three abandoned billboards criticizing Willoughby and the rest of the police department. Mildred is forced to endure backlash from the community, especially from racist police officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell).
McDormand defies the typical one-note strong female protagonist performance that we’ve seen so many times before in films like Alien and Mad Max: Fury Road. While McDormand’s character is undoubtedly a force to be reckoned with — there’s a jaw-dropping scene in a dentist’s office that showcases her fierceness — she also cares deeply about certain members of the community. Throughout the film, she develops a complex relationship with Harrelson’s character as she seeks justice for her daughter’s murder. McDormand’s character is given much more depth while she and Harrelson are on screen together, showing the audience that she isn’t just a lunatic on a mission.
Rockwell’s character, arguably, has more development than any of the others. His performance as a sniveling, racist bigot is cringeworthy in all of the best ways. Any time a character is so hateable that you’re actively rooting against them for most of the movie, you know the performance is special — even if the character is the literal scum of the earth.
Besides McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell, all of the other supporting characters give incredible performances as wacky townspeople. Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters and Peter Dinklage have a combined screen time of maybe 15 minutes, but they’re all able to achieve strong character development in a short amount of time.
There’s not a whole lot to complain about in Three Billboards. It’s a pretty awesome movie. The script was sharp because it wasn’t too long, and every performance in the film is outstanding. There’s a reason the film is dominating award season, and hopefully its momentum continues.