One thing you learn in the wild is to avoid a mother bear and her cubs. That mother bear will do anything necessary to keep those cubs safe.
“Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri” presents a human mother bear who is doing anything necessary because one of her cubs was violated.
The mother is Mildred Hayes, whose daughter was kidnapped, raped and murdered.
Played by Academy Award-winning actress Frances McDormand, Mildred watched as the police of Ebbing did little, in her mind, to find the killer. So, she decides to do something herself.
Three billboards sit in disrepair just outside town. She pays the local advertising company that owns the billboards to have all three deliver a message to Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).
The message asks why the police have not found the person who committed this horrible act.
The movie is laced with many wonderful characters.
There is Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who is an abusive officer on the force. He is racist, a drunken mama’s boy and a defender of Willoughby. Charlie, Mildred’s ex-husband who is dating a 19-year-old, was abusive to Mildred during their marriage. And James (Peter Dinklage), the town little person, is sweet on Mildred.
As the movie unfolds, we see the force of will of Mildred. She is determined to get justice for her daughter. Using her best weapon, a caustic tongue, she verbally eviscerates anyone that stands in her way.
One scene stood out to me. The local Catholic priest comes to Mildred’s house to talk to her about taking down the billboards.
Willoughby is much beloved in Ebbing, and the priest feels the chief is being treated unjustly. When Mildred confronts him and compares the priesthood to the Crips and Bloods, it is a verbal takedown like no other.
And that is what makes this movie so interesting. Mildred is a woman scorned by a husband who disrespects her by running around with a person old enough to be his daughter.
The whole town stands against her. The scene where she gets an attempted comeuppance with the local dentist is cringeworthy but funny.
Even when Dixon decides to use the power of his badge to get back at her, this does not slow her down one bit.
McDormand turns in the performance of the year with a commanding bit of acting that’s worth seeing.
She portrays a truly complicated woman who is not all bad, for she has compassion on little things like bugs. Yet, she is relentless in her pursuit of justice for herself and her child and is merciless to anyone that stands in her way.
Martin McDonagh, who directed and wrote this movie, created this role for McDormand. He is a great filmmaker who did a marvelous job with another darkly comedic movie, “In Bruges.”
What he gives to McDormand is a gift to those of us who have seen female characters act only as support to some male character. What we see here is a woman that leads in every aspect of the story.
This movie is one that does not follow any movie of its kind. There are more twists and turns than a snake moving through the grass.
The film allows each character to become more than what could easily be a stereotype and draws the characters closer to each other.
I loved this movie. It is vulgar and unrepentant in its characterizations. It exudes a fearlessness that few movies would attempt, but this one pulls it off in grand style.
Michael Parnell is pastor of Temple Baptist Church in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is married and has two boys. His love is for movies, and he can be found in a theater most Fridays.
MPAA Rating: R for violence, language throughout and some sexual references.
Writer and director: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand (Mildred), Woody Harrelson (Willoughby), Sam Rockwell (Dixon), Peter Dinklage (James).
The movie’s website is here.