December 27, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Frances McDormand Delivers in Dark Comedy Reminiscent of “Fargo”

By Kam Williams

Twenty years ago, Frances McDormand won an Academy Award for Fargo, a delightful whodunit set in a tiny Minnesota town inhabited by colorful local characters. In that Coen Brothers’ black comedy, McDormand played a dedicated police chief who was tireless in her efforts to solve a murder case, even though she was pregnant.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a similar dark mystery set in the Midwest, that’s also full of folksy characters. McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, the mother of her teenage daughter (Kathryn Newton) whose beaten and raped corpse was found lying in a ditch along a lonely stretch of road.

It’s been seven months since the murder, and the Ebbing police seem to have lost interest in apprehending the perpetrator. So, in order to get the department’s attention, Mildred rents three billboards near the murder scene on which she asks Police Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), in huge block letters, why he hasn’t made an arrest yet.

Unfortunately, the ploy backfires. Although it embarrasses the chief, it also generates public sympathy for him, because everybody in the tight-knit community knows he’s battling pancreatic cancer.

Undeterred in her quest for justice, Mildred turns to Willoughby’s deputy (Sam Rockwell) to pick up the ball. But Dixon is a racist who’d rather hassle minorities by arresting African-American citizens for minor infractions of the law than help the mourning mother.

Written and directed by Oscar-winner Martin McDonagh (Six Shooter), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a thought provoking social satire that paints a chilling, yet plausible, portrait of what it might be like to fight an entrenched patriarchy that is comfortable with a status quo that favors white males.

Frances McDormand may receive another Oscar nomination for this superb performance in which she convincingly conveys the profound distress of a grief-stricken mother who is desperate for answers.

Excellent (****). Rated R for violence, sexual references, ethnic slurs, and pervasive profanity. Running time: 115 minutes. Studio: Blueprint Pictures. Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures.