Why Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing Missouri Is the Most Important Film Of The Year

Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing Missouri
Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing Missouri Fox Searchlight Pictures

I tend to think meanly of “must-see” recommendations as the moniker itself awakes the cynic in me. So when every friend, colleague and clergyman that I trust told me that I in particular would absolutely adore Three Billboards Outside Of Ebing Missouri, I sought out a screening with my, “I mean it was ok,” already locked and loaded. Much to the chagrin of the would-be provocateur in me, Martin McDonagh has made what I feel to be the most important film of the year.

At its surface, Three Billboards is a comedic polemic on the justice system, and an effective one at that. It has a great deal to say about how archaically the country’s law enforcement handles rape cases, the taut relationship between minorities and yokel police forces, and the role masculinity plays to engender all of the above. The film isn’t moralizing, nor is it rueful, but McDonagh successfully created a film that has pertinent things to say, without being grandiose about it. And while this is all well and good, it isn’t why Three Billboards is so vital right now.

Conviction. At its heart, Three Billboards Outside Of Ebing Missouri is about conviction, a virtue wholly lost in the people and places that matter. Mildred Hayes aims to find her daughter's killer. When the law not only fails her daughter, but gives up entirely, Hayes takes up the cause herself and posts three billboards right outside of her podunk Missouri town, that read, “Raped while dying,” “And Still No Arrests?” and “How Come Chief Willoughby?”

Chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, is beloved, revered and is later revealed to be dying of cancer. This complicates things. But it doesn’t change them. Chief Willoughby, husband and father of two, commits suicide in the third act of the film. That complicates things. But it doesn’t change them. By the time the film rolls credits, the majority of the town has all but started a pogrom, sicked on the minorities, midgets and “dipshits” that aid Mildred Hayes in her search to find her daughter’s killer. But again, it doesn’t change anything.

The film questions our power to face and accept a truth no matter how uncomfortable its implications. In this era of hero worship and imprecision, this is a film we could all benefit from seeing. Irrespective of trends, sentiment or circumstances, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing Missouri asks us to make a point to value truth and ethics.

“I got cancer Mildred, I’m dying,” Chief Willoughby tells Mildred after his initial request for her to remove the billboards goes ignored. She responds, “I know it, the whole town knows it. Those billboards won’t be as effective after you croaked.”

Three BIllboards Outside Of Ebbing Missouri is a film you should see regardless of its message. It’s funny, well executed and it is one of McDormand’s and Rockwell’s best in a strong field. If I'm going to find some common ground in Hegel's insistence that art must attempt to repudiate social missteps, this is the kind of picture that I can, in good conscience recommend.

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