Disturbing. Thought-provoking. Unsettling.
But, most of all, riveting.
I couldn’t take my eyes off the screen as I watched Frances McDormand embrace the role of Mildred Hayes. It is not surprising that she has already captured several Best Actress awards and is a strong contender for an Oscar.
Angry and frustrated after seven months of waiting for the local police to apprehend the man who raped, murdered, and burned her daughter, Mildred rents a trio of billboards with the following provocative messages:
RAPED WHILE DYING
STILL NO ARRESTS?
HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?
But calling out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for his incompetence does not endear Mildred to the residents of Ebbing, a fictitious, small town in Missouri. For starters, the Chief is a devoted father and husband in the final stages of pancreatic cancer. When he reminds Mildred of his illness, she responds: “They (billboards) won’t be as effective when you croak.” In spite of her callousness, Mildred does have a grudging respect for the Chief.
Mildred’s relationship with Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a racist and violent Mama’s boy, is fraught with tension. Easily provoked and goaded by his mother, Dixon doesn’t hesitate to take the law into his own hands. Rockwell’s outstanding performance has already earned him two supporting actor awards.
Mildred’s quest for justice takes several startling twists and turns as the narrative progresses. Significant facts are revealed during arguments with her son and ex-husband, leading us to question Mildred’s motives. Fighting back and fighting harder—regardless of how violent or crazed—dominates the second half of the movie.
In short, there are no true heroes or true villains or clear-cut lessons in this dark comic drama that has garnered seven Oscar nominations.