By Jason Fontelieu
My hands were numb from tightly gripping the seats for an hour and 55 minutes. My eyebrows were frozen, perpetually furrowed. My heart felt like it had been torn out of my chest and used for a game of basketball. If you want to experience all these same symptoms, go see the painfully heart-wrenching, cinematically masterful film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”
“Three Billboards” chronicles the tragic story of Mildred Hayes (played by Frances McDormand), a mother whose daughter was brutally raped and murdered. However, Hayes is long past the stages of grief and ready for revenge.
Several months after the murder, she pays for three billboards with messages about her daughter’s murder, specifically addressing Police Chief William Willoughby (played by Woody Harrelson) on the department’s lackluster job of investigating the crime.
McDormand delivers a gracefully resolute — and Academy Award-winning — performance of an unwavering mother forced to deal with one of worst tragedies a parent can experience. Her stiff facial expressions and sharp attitude paint a character who’s rough around the edges, but one you can’t help but root for. McDormand knows exactly when to shift into gear and put on her poker face, and when to be vulnerable and truly indulge in her grief.
Harrelson, who was nominated for an Academy Award for his role, seems to flirt with the impossible, serving as the film’s stand-in antagonist, yet showing compassion for the town, including Hayes. He’s the reason Hayes is unable to find her daughter’s murderer, yet it’s hard to blame him when he seems to be trying his best. His role as a loving father, a hardworking cop and a dying cancer patient make him a truly versatile character.
Sam Rockwell also delivers an Academy Award-winning performance as the drunken, bumbling, asshole of a cop, Dixon. There are times when you love him and times when you hate him — I’ve never had more intense, mixed emotions toward a character.
The cinematography in the film adds to the quaint atmosphere of the town of Ebbing. Nothing is too wildly overdone or unheard of. The subtlety of certain shots, with McDormand on a porch swing swaying in and out of frame to cover and uncover Harrelson’s face as he sits next to her, is so simple, yet so profound to convey the tense, emotionally-charged mood.
All in all, “Three Billboards” is an intense, violent film that was at times hard to watch. The line between what is lawful and what is right is questioned throughout, yet the core story of a mother trying to do right for her daughter undoubtedly taps into the viewer’s sense of justice for humanity.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s Facebook page.
Jason Fontelieu is a freshman journalism major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.