By Tanner Bidish, Visual Media Director
It is no secret, the police system in the United States has got some issues. Issues when it comes to police brutality, serving the public interest, over reaches of authority… the list goes on. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is prepared to call out these problems with law enforcement. The film’s ambition is a bold as its namesake iconic, red billboards. Sadly, while there is drive, there isn’t follow through.
Three Billboards is the story of a mother, Mildred (Frances McDormand), who is seeking answers about her daughter’s rape and murder. After a lack of followthrough with the local law enforcement, Mildred holds the police accountable by asking them where the case is going on billboards outside the town (hence the title). The town loves its cops, and isn’t too pleased, and thus the plot ensues … well, expect it doesn’t.
Not much happens in the film towards solving the rape/murder case. The film instead focuses on the personal backlash of trying to keep this case in the public eye. The story goes in for spikes of violence, followed by stretches of dialogue that struggle to do much with their tension. It’s awkwardly slow at times. There’s a feeling that the urgency of the plot gets lost.
The film follows Mildred, but also the ad salesman (Caleb Landry Jones), the police chief (Woody Harrelson), and one of his subordinates (Sam Rockwell).With multiple characters there’s an interesting lens for glimpses at those big topics mentioned earlier, but it never hits any hard points. Instead of decisive statements being made on injustice in small-town USA, the audience is left with themes of interpersonal forgiveness and murky acceptance.
The supporting cast is full of seemingly stale performances, especially next to McDormand. Lucas Hedges, playing Mildred’s teenage son, more often than not sounds like he had read his lines an hour before going on set. Peter Dinklage gives a throw away performance as a bar goer with a crush on Mildred – it’s disappointing for sure. McDormand dominates the screen, and her performance is perhaps the best element of this film, but that’s not an excuse for her co-stars to fall as flat as they do.
Awkward pacing and lackluster performances are the biggest reasons Three Billboards drops the ball. The film dives in so strongly, especially with the intense imagery of the billboards themselves, but it does keep it up. The plot loses its focus and drifts off from what it wanted in the beginning. It’s a bummer that what was shaping up to be one of the best movies of 2017 turned out to be an end of year disappointment.
Watch the trailer here: