The Road to Ruin
in Golden Globe
Best Picture Winner,
Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
By Mikhail Lecaros
PHOTOS COURTESY OF 20th Century Fox
What if your only your only daughter suffered the worst fate imaginable to a parent and, months later, the police had yet to turn up a single lead? What would you do to honor their memory, and how far would you go to avenge their loss?
Unfortunately for small town gift shop worker Mildred, (the ever-excellent Frances McDormand, of 2012’s Moonrise Kingdom) these questions aren’t hypothetical. Which leads her to lease the film’s eponymous billboards to send a message, effectively goading her town’s police (headed up by Woody Harrelson’s well-meaning Chief Wiloughby) into action via public humiliation.
Woman on a Mission
While Mildred is the sort of role that a lesser performer could very easily have reduced to parody or caricature, McDormand comands your attention, not through theatrics or big monologues, but by simply, believably, inhabiting the headspace of her character. As the film’s emotional core, Mildred is trying deeply to make sense of the world, her tough as nails façade fractures at times to reveal an inner grief she is unable to contain with her bratty son or jerk of an ex-husband. This isn’t to say she’s above kicking someone in the crotch or setting fire to a police station mind you, but the manner in which McDormand is able to make us root for such a clearly broken character is no small feat.
Small Town Chief
Rather than providing Mildred – or, for that matter, the audience – with any of comfort or solace, the Ebbing Police Department adds to the overall sense of melancholy. At the head is Harrelson’s Sherrif Willoughby who, while being an altogether decent fellow who empathizes with the grieving mother, has his own problems to deal with.
Blessed with a beautiful wife (Abbie Cornish, Sucker Punch) and two lovely daughters, Willoughby is nevertheless forced to contend with the prospect of his own mortality in the cruelest way, ultimately choosing to contend with the inevitable on his own terms.
Small Town Idiot
No matter the movie, Sam Rockwell (Moon, Iron Man 2) is the kind of performer who never phones in a performance, always giving his best, even when the film around him doesn’t. In Three Billboards, the talent definitely doesn’t go to waste, as Rockwell plays a haplessly racist – yet not altogether incompetent – deputy named Dixon. Henpecked by his overbearing mother and more often found reading comics rather than solving cases, Dixon comes with a short fuse, as seen in a brutal one-shot sequence that comes to define the character.