Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (R)

Drama 115 min. November 10, 2017
By April Wolfe
At first, the prospect of Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) skewering some racist Missouri cops delighted me. Frances McDormand as Mildred, a grieving mother who taunts the local police for not solving her daughter's rape and murder, is imperfect rage personified, a lady vengeance for the ages. But as McDonagh's story turns toward the redemption of one very bad cop, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), I found the Irishman McDonagh out of his league in handling uniquely American ills. McDonagh painstakingly humanizes a character who we find has unapologetically tortured a black man in police custody. And then Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri seems to ask audiences to forgive and forget wrongs like police violence, domestic abuse and sexual assault without demonstrating a full understanding of the centuries-long toll these crimes have taken on victims in real life.

Mildred pays the twerpy little ad man of Ebbing, Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones), to raise up three successive billboards reading, "Raped while dying," "And still no arrests?" "How come, Chief Willoughby?" Racist, incompetent cop Dixon flips a lid over this, threatening Red. Dixon is protective of the reputation of his boss Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), enough to commit battery against Red. But as we quickly find out from the gossip of nearly every character in Ebbing, Dixon would rather be arresting and torturing black people.

And yet despite the gripes I have with McDonagh's handling of urgently of-the-moment storylines and archetypes, he has also created a character in Mildred who has inspired me to buy maroon coveralls. It is, as with all McDonagh projects, his wicked dialogue that wins my affection, and Mildred's is some of the grouchiest, sharpest I've heard.
Martin McDonagh Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Samantha Weaving, Peter Dinklage Martin McDonagh Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, and Martin McDonagh Fox Searchlight

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