Justice Unrequited

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Title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Rating: 5 Stars

Mildred (Frances McDormand) is consumed with grief, rage, and guilt over the violent rape and murder of her daughter some seven months ago. Infuriated that the police are apparently making no progress, she rents three billboards near the town goading the local chief of police (Woody Harrelson) to spur him into action. The police chief, Willoughby, is embarrassed by the signs and is frustrated over his lack of progress. On top of that, he’s dying of cancer, a fact of which Mildred is well aware but posts the signs anyway. His deputy, Dixon (Sam Rockwell), is racist, homophobic, and not very bright. He is infuriated that Mildred is defying the chief’s authority by posting the signs.

The plot unfolds from that starting point. Since it is a new release, it wouldn’t be fair to spoil the plot further.

This was just a well crafted film. The acting was excellent. McDormand, stripped of all glamour, is an open wound of pain. Harrelson portrays an well meaning, earnest man trying to do the right thing but is running out of time. Rockwell is a dim, raging brute that is cowed by his mother. All of the other actors also did fine work in their smaller roles.

In all of their portrayals there is an undercurrent of dark humor. Mildred, despite being lost in grief, has a ruthless rapier wit. She effortlessly destroys a priest that tries to pass judgment on her. Willoughby is grimly resigned to his fate and looks for moments of light in his remaining days. Dixon’s dim naivete is a nice counterpoint to his extreme violence (eg his acts of “persons of color torture”).

Throughout the entire film, the script walks a fine line between bathos and pathos, and it does so with perfect balance.

The movie ends with no resolution. Perhaps Mildred and Dixon will grow, learn, and possibly even heal from this experience, but that is certainly no foregone conclusion.

Perhaps they’ll choose violence that will not resolve anything. Perhaps they’ll come to better terms with their grief and pain. Ultimately, the film leaves that decision to the viewer.

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