Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a strong, determined woman, who wants to put up an advertisement on the three billboards outside a small town, Ebbing, in Missouri, right before her house and right where her daughter died. The chief of police William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is considered responsible for not digging enough in the Hayes case, but he is dying of cancer and doesn’t have much time. After the chief’s suicide, his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) gets involved in Mildred’s cause and tries to find the rapist and murderer.
Despite the comedic scenes, where the cynicism and nonsense mix together, this film has deep dark sides: Dixon embodies the conventional racist, with a even more racist mother; Mildred is a strong, fierce woman but with a sadic and cruel personality that hides her pain for her daughter. Even the circumstances surrounding Angela’s death are dark: she was raped while she was burning to death.
The script is full of swear words and most of the time it is Mildred who pronounces them. Throughout the film, she always dresses with the same overall from Rosie The Riveter, the famous drawing for women rights. Is that a coincidence? She proves to be stronger and fiercer than many other policemen in Ebbing, but she still has a broken heart and just wants revenge. This contrast between rage and sweetness is present in many other aspects, for example through Dixon’s character: he is violent, full of rage and hat, but deep down he is a good man and immediatly takes action when he hears the stranger speak about a rape very similar to Angela’s one. And even in the very end, while Mildred and Dixon are driving to Idaho to kill that stranger, they aren’t totally convinced about their actions.
The story is dark and misterious, the soundtrack reminds us of a western by Sergio Leone, the location is perfect for an anonymous murder: all these ingredients create the perfect crime film, with the exception that Three Billboards is funny and irriverent. We’ve already seen Frances in many films and many roles, but she couldn’t have been more perfect for this one. Without her, there wouldn’t have been a film to see.