Film & Television

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri : Frances McDormand’s Feminist Tour de Force

The supporting cast is uniformly excellent as well. Particularly memorable is Lucas Hedges (last seen in Manchester by the Sea) as Mildred’s son Robbie, and John Hawkes (Martha Marcy May Marlene) as her ex-husband Charlie. Abbie Cornish and Caleb Landry Jones are both touching as Willoughby’s wife and the ad man. In a smaller role, Samara Weaving is sweetly funny as Charlie’s wide-eyed 19-year-old girlfriend. (“Be nice to her,” Mildred warns Charlie.) Clarke Peters, one of my favorite actors from HBO’s underappreciated Treme, is an unwelcome newcomer to Ebbing. And, Peter Dinklage (Game of Thrones) as the aforementioned “town midget” delivers an almost Shakespearean soliloquy after a dismal date.

McDonagh has already won an Oscar for his short film Six Shooter in 2006 (and was nominated for Best Screenplay for In Bruges in 2008), and along with his stellar cast, he is surely in line for more honors in the coming year. He is originally from London and is a renowned playwright with successful productions there and on Broadway of The Lieutenant of Inishmore, The Pillowman, and The Beauty Queen of Leenane. His dialogue in Three Billboards draws heavily on that stagewriting background.

Ebbing, Missouri doesn’t really exist, but McDonagh’s created a version of small-town Americana that is both inconceivable and utterly convincing. Because he’s not from the U.S., you have to wonder whether the film is meant as a condemnation. But, despite the ugliness, and there is plenty, he seems to feel some affection for Ebbing and its deeply flawed inhabitants. Especially for Mildred.

Mildred Hayes is not a very attractive person. She’s angry, profane, violent and mean-spirited. She hurls cereal at her son’s head and kicks his classmates in the crotch. She wears coveralls to the town’s nicest restaurant and takes her fashion cues from Rambo. There is no question that she is grieving the loss of her daughter, but it’s equally clear that a part of her relishes the mess she’s making in Ebbing. She has a purpose, probably for the first time in her life. She’s fighting for all women, not just her daughter.

McDormand becomes Mildred, and she doesn’t give a damn how she looks or what you think of her.

Because great acting doesn’t have to be pretty.


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  • King Lear December 23, 2017 at 8:29 pm

    The dumbest person in the movie summed up the theme: hate begats hate. Francis hated herself for being unkind to her daughter and making her walk to town, thus leading to her daughter’s rape and death. Francis tries to focus blame on others as she dealt with her own guilt. The moral of the movie is very powerfully presented. I see this being nominated for best picture.

  • madaline winkles November 28, 2017 at 9:20 am

    As always, McDormand never fails to make us admire and be thankful for her performances. The movie is so well done on many counts its hard to know where to begin but what I found so satisfying was the character development (a feature often lacking in more commercial films that depend on technology or fluff for appeal). Nuanced and subtle, the display of character depth, motivation and movement is a credit to the actors skillful performances (Harrelson and Rockwell – were also exemplary) and the quality writing of the screenplay. This is a movie not to miss.