When no progress is made on solving her daughter’s rape and murder, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) takes matters into her own hands and hires three billboards that try to shame the police into proper action.
When the rave reviews rolled in and the awards began to stack up, the criticism also increased. Sometimes the criticism is valid, but there’s a certain debate that holds so little validation it’s not even worth my time, but I am going to address it away. The criticism concerns the redemptive arc for Sam Rockwell’s racist police officer which angered viewers when he didn’t get any comeuppance for his racist behaviour. This viewpoint seems to be coming from people who have no idea that films are supposed to challenge you and not always tell you what to think. Not only that, people like this seem to view the world as one where people sit easily into two categories, good and bad. The real world is far more complicated than this because humans are complicated people, even the most terrible people are capable of showing things like kindness and empathy. Not only this, these people are just as guilty at showing signs of intolerance than the people they accuse of intolerance.
Three Billboards is a very good, if very flawed, film. Criticism can be aimed at the film that, arguably, both character and plot lacks a little bit of consistency but what it does well is poignantly look at how a crime as devastating as rape and murder can affect a family. Mildred Hayes is distraught by her daughter’s death, and fuelled by anger she decides to hit back the cops, who have made little progress, by hiring three billboards to attack the local police. Frances McDormand is magnificent in the lead role as she nails Medred’s devilish and quick tongue as well her more sensitive movements where she is left alone to her thoughts, which always concern her last few moments with her daughter.
Mildred Hayes is a deeply flawed character, she is fouled mouthed, rude, abrasive and difficult to get along with. It makes for a far more interesting character than just simply having a seemingly perfect, pristine and faultless woman try to cope with her daughter’s death. Later on in the film her behaviour becomes more erratic and it’s not entirely within character, but Frances McDormand’s superb performance, and Martin McDonagh’s sensitive handling of dark material, ensures that the audience is always empathic towards Mildred.
Despite his reputation for dark comedy Martin McDonagh film goes more towards empathy and pathos than dark humour. That’s not to say that the film isn’t darkly humorous as the first half contains much of his trademark, deliciously dark, politcially incorrect, humour. The second half loses some of humour as it tries to complete the character arcs, but throughout is a strong level of pathos for Mildred’s dreadful position. The supporting players are just as impressive as Frances McDormand in the lead role as both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell flesh out their characters bring their respective characters arcs to a satisfying and powerful conclusion, and it helps that the film is sympathetic to all major characters, despite their major flaws.