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The Problem(s) with ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

by Julianna Ress, Senior Staff Writer

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On Sunday, Jan. 7, the 75th annual Golden Globe Awards ceremony ended by awarding “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” the honor of Best Motion Picture – Drama.

It was a night in which activism was front and center — attendees dressed in all black to show solidarity with the #MeToo movement and the newly organized Time’s Up Legal Defense Fund seeking to end sexual harassment in the workplace.

The ceremony certainly had its fumbles, but not without some genuinely moving and effective moments, like Oprah’s Cecil B. DeMille Award acceptance speech and Natalie Portman’s off-script jab at the all-male line-up of Best Director nominees.

Giving the final award of the night to “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” which had already collected three other awards, seemed to fit the ceremony’s tone in that it’s a film led by a woman which addresses racism and sexual assault.

Here’s the problem: “Three Billboards” is bad.

The Martin McDonagh written and directed film follows Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) in her decision to rent three billboards off an otherwise abandoned highway in order to force the local police chief (Woody Harrelson) to address the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, Angela, that occurred seven months prior.


“It seems to me the police department is too busy torturing black folks to solve actual crime,” Mildred tells the local news when her provocative billboards predictably garner attention.

For a film concerned with racially-charged police brutality enough to even include that quote in the trailer, it’s not interested in actually telling the stories of those affected by it, instead using people of color as props to prove Mildred’s wokeness and addressing race relations on vague, one-sided terms that reek of performative allyship.

Meanwhile, “Three Billboards” spends an alarming amount of its runtime humanizing local racist officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) with “Blue Lives Matter”-driven mental gymnastics that lead the character embodying everything the film’s heroine is against to becoming her closest ally without ever distancing himself from his history of racism or receiving his well-deserved comeuppance.

Not only is this character problematic, he’s excruciatingly poorly written. His motivations are unclear and confusing, and the redemption narrative the film establishes for him plays out without the character showing any sign of tangible evolution. Did I mention Rockwell was also honored at the Golden Globes?

Similar could be said for the rest of “Three Billboards” as a whole — retroactive justification for the film’s accolades has occurred in the wake of its backlash, grasping for other aspects of the film to praise, but the execution all-around is messy and off-putting, including the forgettable performances from the otherwise talented cast.

It also practically won bingo for using every tired, cliché trope that films baiting for awards exploit: the “dead girl,” abuse as a plot device and forced ambiguity that begs viewers to theorize what happens after the credits roll, if only the film was compelling enough for us to do so.

The most unforgivable scene in the film also exemplifies all “Three Billboards’” flaws the most clearly and uncomfortably. It’s when Mildred flashes back to the last conversation she had with Angela before she was raped and murdered — they were fighting, and as Angela storms out of the house Mildred yells after her, “I hope you get raped!”


Tackiness, tastlessness and the ability to perversely put blame for Angela’s rape on her mother somehow aside, the scene is so brazenly on the nose that how a script with that dialogue in it was awarded Best Screenplay is beyond me.

But look, awards don’t matter. The trophies handed to actors and filmmakers are hardly indicative of the respective films’ cultural impact and how they will be looked back on in the future.

Yet in a time when Hollywood is being forced to address its racism and misogyny, it’s telling that it’s doing so by awarding the film that addresses those issues in a way that absolves the perpetuators of them the most.

Awards season is just getting started, and the heartbreaking stories of assault and abuse we’ve been following in the news the past few months are now being addressed directly, unavoidably broadcasted to our homes. The awkward humor, tearful speeches and accusations of complicity against those who wear Time’s Up pins and still work with Woody Allen are just getting started.

But at the end of the day, Hollywood can’t pat itself on the back for providing these platforms only to award the films that condone the very problems the industry is facing — not just with “Three Billboards,” but also in celebrating alleged sexual predators like James Franco, Gary Oldman and Kirk Douglas.

Let those who have been long ignored and oppressed by Hollywood tell their own stories, instead of having white men do it for them under a thin veil of calculated progressivism.

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12 Responses to “The Problem(s) with ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’”

  1. Ella on January 17th, 2018 2:23 pm

    An eloquent review which also goes completely against the mainstream media narrative.

    It’s rare to find a negative movie review coming from a mainstream media publication these days largely because these media companies are all linked into a huge interconnected business family.

    Critics have become industry shills because indirectly movie companies have become their employers.

    I have seen quite a few negative reviews for this movie, but only from individual, independent reviewers who, nonetheless, have been equally articulate and as intelligent as the industry shills, but their voice is ignored.

    It’s 2018. It’s time black people in cinema were portrayed as being fully rounded human beings – not devices. I feel angry about this.

    I feel angry that movies about lesbians are directed by straight men. That movies about gay men are directed by straight men and that movies that deal with black lives are directed by white men. The list goes on.

    It’s time to change the writers and directors or perhaps just abandon the Hollywood system altogether.

  2. Joanne on January 24th, 2018 1:46 pm

    I was NOT in love with 3 Billboards outside of Ebbing, Missouri…Nor did I think Frances McDormand was brilliant . Any ACCOMPLISHED actress could have played her part. But she was great in Fargo…I’ll give her that.

    I found her/character to be manipulative and forced. The film starts out okay. It had a dark foreboding angle to it like reading a good murder mystery…Wanted it to continue on that path but it didn’t. Just went off THE RAILS into something else that had nothing to do with the premise of the film.

    At some point during the movie I became RESTLESS and BORED and STOPPED CARING about any of the characters and the direction was not any better.

    I do however think that MARGOT ROBBIE in I, TONYA should have received both the Golden Globe and SAG award. But since she was NOT a SYMPATHETIC character you championed for she was overlooked…It SHOULD have been about her ACTING and how CHALLENGING it was to play that part. NOT about whether the REAL person was someone you liked.

  3. James on February 8th, 2018 8:37 pm

    I gave the movie a 2 out of 10 on a Movie Poll found on

    When I checked the voting results, I realized I had the minority opinion by a longshot.
    I’m beginning to wonder what planet am I on. How could so many people like this movie?
    Was there even a plot? Did the scriptwriters talk to each other? Have they ever heard the phrase – connect the dots –

    I feel like my mind was raped watching this movie. Is that too harsh a statement?

  4. John Eggerton on January 24th, 2018 3:54 pm

    Thank You. ‘

    There has been so much unalloyed, and I think underserved, praise of this film that it is refreshing to find someone shares my view of how poorly it was written.

    When you put an Oscar Wilde quote in someone’s mouth, it is usually because as a writer you like the quote, then figure out how to make a character say it .In fact, most of the characters’ motivations seem to be to say the lines the writer wants to write, rather than lines they would actually say.

    The cliches were running like the bulls at Pamplona, as you rightly point out, and there seemed no justification for the characters’ actions, save, again, for doing what the writer wanted them to do.

    When Mildred, who has said she hopes the sheriff dies of cancer and has shown no empathy, suddenly gets all soft when he coughs up blood, then returns to her normal merciless state, it rings false.

    I spent most of the time in the movie mentally noting what was wrong with it, which is never a good sign.

    Another bad sign, when it comes to dialog, is to have someone say exactly what they mean to say, then add: “or something like that,” to try and convey they are actually unclear.

    For made up example: “I think it was that Lincoln guy who said Fore score and seven years ago our forefathers brought fought upon this continent a new nation…or something like that.”

    That this could be nominated for best screenplay is beyond comprehension.

    So, a deputy tortures a black man in custody with the tacit approval, or defense, of the sheriff, and they are made out to be sympathetic characters without any moments of self-revelation?

    At times, I wondered if it was supposed to be a farce mocking the stereotypes it was milling at such a hefty rate and the bad dialogue. Apparently not.

  5. Josh Ormand on January 24th, 2018 7:10 pm

    This spectacularly facile review manages to singularly distort every feature of the film in the service of a deranged, puritanical and self defeating identity politick. A deliciously perverse achievement, bravo!

  6. jonnybutter on January 27th, 2018 9:36 pm

    Finally, the review this horrible movie deserves. My wife and I were trying hard to think of what would have made it worse, and we really couldn’t come up with anything. Maybe an actor with less talent than McDormand, but other than that, we could think of nothing.

    The script was so ridiculously bad that I found myself thinking that there must be some double reverse ironic perspective I was somehow missing. But as the two very long hours of theatrical humiliation dragged on and on I realized that there is only what’s there. And although the movie is full of really shockingly bad lines – Ms Ress is absolutely correct to cite the ones she does, but there are many more! – to make it worse, the story itself had no shape; it was just an ugly, violent, inhuman, shaggy dog story.

    Ress is so right about the politics of the movie too – black people are mere ciphers and props to facilitate white virtue signalling. And for a movie so obviously pandering to an advertising executive’s idea of a Strong Woman™, the female characters other than McDormand’s were so fake – and frankly, bimbo-ish – that calling them two dimensional is being kind.

    Above all, this horrible, terrible movie is deeply embarrassing on just a species-level. That it’s being widely praised and awarded says everything about the sheer cultural bankruptcy of today’s Hollywood. The clueless, utterly fake ‘woke’ politics is the mashed potato frosting atop a leaden rancid cake.

  7. jonnybutter on January 28th, 2018 9:50 am

    One further note, if I may:

    Apparently the producer/writer/director of the film, Martin McDonagh, is mainly a playwright. This explains the embarrassing, over-broad, actor-y script. I feel sure I would also dislike a staged version of ‘3 Billboards’, but can now see one reason the film is especially bad – bad in an exemplary way. There is a relationship of author-to-audience in the theatre which is fundamentally different from what you find in the movies. In the theatre, If all the actors in a play kind of sound like the same person (the author), it’s alright, and even expected. But in a film, it really grates, A merely bad play becomes a reekingly bad movie.

  8. Alan Drew on February 14th, 2018 8:57 pm

    I agree that the movie is terrible. Everyone is a victim. They are like Russian dolls. Uncaring Cop; he’s got cancer. Racist Cop; he’s really gay but has been crushed by society. etc etc.

  9. Ree on March 2nd, 2018 11:03 am

    I agree film as an art form is a subjective experience for all, but when a writer spends the majority of their review foaming over things that don’t matter or aren’t correct, it might be fair to say that someone has misunderstood the point of the film completely.

    “–it’s not interested in actually telling the stories of those affected by [racism] instead using people of color as props to prove Mildred’s wokeness and addressing race relations on vague, one-sided terms that reek of performative allyship.”

    While racism and rape are present in the film’s story, they are mainly used as plot points. The point of the film itself is to ponder on hate and anger – how does one end the vicious cycle of hate, violence, or revenge? Francis McDormand’s character suffers from the uncontained anger she feels because of what happened to her. Dixon is a hateful and violent character himself, but in a different way. Both of them go on this journey, evolve as characters and maybe, the ending suggests us, they will become better people in the future.
    So really, the movie gets to decide on which topics it wants and needs to touch on. It’s not what the movie’s about. And if someone toots this film’s horn over being “woke” and dealing with pressing issues, they are equally wrong.

    “‘Three Billboards’ spends an alarming amount of its runtime humanizing local racist officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) with “Blue Lives Matter”-driven mental gymnastics that lead the character embodying everything the film’s heroine is against to becoming her closest ally without ever distancing himself from his history of racism or receiving his well-deserved comeuppance.”

    This character is a major side character and Rockwell McDormand’s co-star, really. So him having a good share of screentime is a pretty logical thing from a writer’s perspective. He’s not really everything the heroine’s against, either. Mildred is never portrayed as a champion for social justice; she’s got a problem with the local police (and I guess the church, too) and the comment about torturing black people is more a jab at them than anything. She’s not really on anyone’s side. She’s just dealing with the loss of her daughter.

    I find your perception that the character never gets his comeuppance strange, too. The character gets fired from his job – well illustrated to be the main thing he lives for – and then badly burnt and disfigured. His life is now pretty much meaningless and he gets damn close to blowing his own head off. This, of course – helped by an act of human kindness at the hospital – slowly sets him on a new course. This is called character development, and it’s executed very well. I truly fail to see any point at which his motivations were lacking or confusing?

    And no, he didn’t necessarily become the greatest guy in the world in the end. He didn’t necessarily throw out all his prejudices or hate away, but the film suggests that he might in the future. The writing is more subtle and realistic like that. In the end McDonagh brings Mildred and Dixon together, since they both are broken people who are headed down similar paths.

    “–but the execution all-around is messy and off-putting, including the forgettable performances from the otherwise talented cast.”

    How? From the perspective of someone who’s studied directing for three years I’d say the execution was pretty meticulous and purposeful. The music was great, the acting (in my opinion) fantastic.

    “–as Angela storms out of the house Mildred yells after her, “I hope you get raped!'”

    Nitpicking isn’t a good thing to do, but if you’re gonna give an example of the “bad dialogue” you felt this movie had, could you at least get the quote right?

    “–the ability to perversely put blame for Angela’s rape on her mother somehow–”

    The point of the scene was to illustrate exactly how bad Mildred is feeling, and how tragic the whole thing is their last interaction considered. It makes us buy things like her burning down a police station a whole lot better. The movie isn’t saying that what happened to Angela was in any way, shape or form Mildred’s fault, or taking any blame in rape cases away from the perpetrators. Mildred, however, is probably feeling partly guilty, like I imagine anyone in that position would, or at least wishes that last encounter would have been different. It illustrates the troublesome relationship the mother and the daughter had and how the mother wishes things would have been different.

    “But look, awards don’t matter”

    This is a statement that I agree with. They never have, they never will. So take your own advice, and next time you do a review, focus on critiquing the piece of art itself more and don’t talk about the politics and the industry ceremonies so much.

  10. Ashley on March 12th, 2018 4:11 am

    Thank you! What a perfect response to a terrible and baseless review. Well, except for the Woody Allen line. I’ll give the writer that and that alone.

  11. Michelle on April 29th, 2018 12:00 pm

    FINALLY someone said it. Your review eloquently elucidates what the mainstream opinions have missed: This movie was terrible.

  12. Jamie on August 5th, 2018 9:36 pm

    So woke. So very, very woke.


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