LFF 2017: A Mother Fights for Justice in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Photo: Twentieth Century Fox

How far are you willing to go to get justice? This is the question that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri poses.

After the death of her daughter Angela, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) feels like the justice system has failed her. While they have evidence, there’s no match, and even after months the killer hasn’t been found. When she discovers three empty billboards on an unused road, the mother decides to catch the attention of the local police department. She rents the billboards and broadcasts the messages: “Raped While Dying”, “Still No Arrests?” and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

She alerts the local news team and the story spreads through their town of Ebbing, Missouri. When questioned why she singled out Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) Mildred claims it’s because he was the head of the team on the case, and that it wasn’t necessary personal. Willoughby was diagnosed with pancreas cancer, and when his situation worsens he decides to commit suicide. Ultimately, Mildred’s billboards are blamed for his actions, and she becomes a pariah.

The billboards and their repercussions fuel the rage of the whole town, particularly Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who decides to not only go after Mildred herself, but everyone who enabled her. In one instance he pays the owner of the advertising company a visit and promptly beats him up and throws him out of window, which costs him his job.

Meanwhile the billboards continue to divide the town, with some people supporting Mildred and her cause, and others going as far as setting them on fire to display their resentment. The situation escalates when Mildred takes revenge by attacking the police station.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an entertaining but gripping dark comedy that leaves nothing to desire but a final conclusion. Director Martin McDonagh has managed to find the delicate balance of grime and heart-break, and light, funny dialogue that many others have yet to perfect. Still, the case of Angela Hayes’ murder remains unsolved, and Three Billboards concludes with an open end, which is the one, and probably only, frustrating thing about it.

Frances McDormand’s performance leaves us in awe of how strong and powerful her character is, even through the most traumatic years of her life. Despite losing a child Mildred continues to fight fire with fire, and every person that stands in her way is faced with ridicule and a witty line. She is unafraid, unashamed, and willing to go above and beyond to get justice for her daughter. She is inspiring, despite her drastic and crass measures.

McDormand also plays off incredibly well with Rockwell, who portrays an unlikeable but redeemable man, who is trying hard to make everyone’s life a bit more miserable rather than actually doing his job. Dixon is an unlikeable idiot that eventually finds himself on the right side of history, or so we’d like to think. However, Rockwell’s performance is raw and gut-wrenching in one instance, as well as comedic gold in another.

McDonagh’s Three Billboards is the kind of movie that lifts your spirits with a great script, fantastic dialogue and interesting characters, but also offers food for thought about a corrupt police force and personal sacrifices.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was screened at the London Film Festival on Sunday October 15. For more information visit the official BFI website. The movie is scheduled for a US release on November 10, 2017, and a UK release on January 12, 2018.

Verena Cote
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