Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a disturbing and yet gripping tale of a group of people who at the end of the day are trying to find closures in their own ways – whether it is a tale of a devastated mother trying to seek justice and answers for her daughter’s murder, or of a cop life laden with goodness but burdened by an inevitable end, or say of a short man seeking acceptance through his tall deeds. It takes you on an extreme journey of grief, rage, anger, helplessness, guilt and loss, wisely interspersed by dark comical layers of smart humor and (somewhat forced) heavy doses of comic profanity; that it makes it impossible for the viewer to sympathize with a grieving mother, or even feel obnoxious for a racist irrational cop.
All this, because more than being a story about finding who committed the heinous crime in question, the film thrives on exploring the gray human layers across a bunch of characters none of whom are all right or all wrong. Its basically this human story of beating hearts and enraged avenging minds that makes the connect and hopes to stay for long in an otherwise dry, uncomfortable and at times unsympathetic drama.
The biggest strength of the film of course comes from its brilliant performances. Frances Mcdormand doesn’t miss a beat in this heavy author backed role of Mildred Hayes, and while she is brilliant in her dominant emotion of anger throughout the film, she actually stands out in the moments that exposes her softer vulnerable sides – whether it is when she suddenly realizes how sick Willoughby is, or a backstory with her daughter and hence a guilt legitimizing her dry rage against everything. Equally good is Sam Rockwell as the irritating, biased cop and yet the dutiful citizen who takes it upon himself to explore hope and closure along with Mildred after life takes out enough from him. Woody Harrelson finds his equally firm ground as Willoughby, and also eases his way into the viewer’s heart and mind much more easily than the rest through his gratifying gestures of life and heartening performances. The rest of the cast is appropriate and provide the much needed support to the leads.
But while each of these performances stand out, the film overall did not leave me as wowed as I expected it to be. For me, it wasn’t as immersive an experience as Phantom Thread or The Shape of Water, and sum of its brilliant parts did not become larger than the somewhat unsatisfying, somewhat overcooked film as a whole. I wanted it to, desperately.
May be this will need some time to settle down to see how it ages, and demands a suspension of judgement till that time, just like the case of Mildred Hayes and her aging and raging grief.