First Hit: Very interesting characters but in the end, the story was unsatisfying, dark, and disturbing.
This is a story about grief, the processing of this grief, and challenging this small town's law enforcement abilities.
Mildred (Francis McDormand) has spent about a year hoping to get satisfaction from the Ebbing Police, headed by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), about the rape and killing of her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton). There have been no real leads or suspects for more than nine months and Mildred’s depression is not subsiding.
To bring attention to the lack of progress on solving the case, Mildred buys advertising on three billboards down the road from her home and near were her daughter’s remains were found. On the billboards, she calls out the police chief specifically as to why nothing has happened on the case.
Of course, Willoughby is upset at the publicity and failure to resolve this case, but he’s also struggling with pancreatic cancer and will be dead soon. His second in command Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is bigoted, racist, and basically dumb. As Dixon gets involved in the case he manages to create havoc and is incredibly insensitive towards most everyone.
What invited me to stay engaged with the film was the hard edge of each of the characters: Mildred’s pain. Willoughby’s difficulties as his cancer begins to win. Mildred’s son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) and his dealing with his own sadness and the embarrassment his mom is causing. Dixon’s insensitivity towards everyone. Just about everyone in the cast has a defined view of the world and it represents everyone in every town.
What didn’t work for me, was the conclusion. I don’t mind films that only lead one to create their own ending, however this film either had too much information (no DNA evidence) or too little information to have the drive-away scene in the end. It fell flat to me.
McDormand was very strong in this role. It fit her well. Harrelson was very good as the police chief facing his failure with this case and that he was dying and wanted to leave on his own terms. Rockwell was almost overwhelming. I certainly didn’t like his character through ninety-five percent of the film, which was the point. Hedges was good as the moody son who is dealing with pain and embarrassment. Peter Dinklage (playing townsman James) was excellent. His wit and charm showed through. Caleb Landry Jones (as Red Welby the owner of the advertising billboards) was sublime. His willingness to make a deal and stand up to public pressure was wonderful. John Hawkes (as Charlie, Mildred’s ex-husband) was good. Samara Weaving (as Penelope, Charlie’s new young girlfriend) was amazing as the out of touch and not-so-smart girl who wants to be accepted. Martin McDonagh wrote and directed this film. A lot of the writing was crisp and to the point which I admired but I thought the story was slightly convoluted and unsatisfying at the end.
Overall: This film was entertaining but not quite complete.