One for the Money, Two for the Show, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

An Ebbing police car rides by three old, tattered billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. (Left to right) Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. Photo via Slusatel at

By Loni Brown, Contributing Writer

If you’re the type of person who can stomach all sorts of violence and colorful language, then you are well equipped to appreciate the black humor dripping from Martin McDonagh’s film, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri(2017).


Its standard runtime of 1 hour 55 minutes is chock full of petty, backwoods, jaw-dropping, raunchy characters who exchange blows while kicking up dust they never allow to settle.


Not one to shy away from topics some would consider sensitive or taboo, McDonagh is responsible for writing and directing this darkly comedic crime drama.


The film features an all-star lineup that includes Frances McDormand (Fargo, 1996), Woody Harrelson (White Men Can’t Jump, 1992), and Sam Rockwell (Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, 2002), and involves major social issues such as rape, murder, and police corruption.


I am a fan of an actor or actress whose actions can convey a thousand words, and here is where Frances McDormand, who plays Mildred, steals the show. Her acting in the nonverbal scene steered my curiosity. I don’t know about you, but if the movie doesn’t demand my attention within the first three to five minutes, I’ll fall asleep well before the ending credits. Her body language added the suspense and foreshadowing necessary to keep me engaged. 


Okay, so let’s take a step back. The film follows Mildred, a character who is as stubborn as she is headstrong. She doesn’t have a cookie-cutter parenting style. Yet, she is protective in a way only a mother can be. She is a mother on a mission, willing to take extreme actions while seeking justice for the brutal rape and murder of her teenage daughter.


When the investigation yields no results, she posts a question for Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) across three billboards leading into town. Although her purpose is righteous, she receives pushback from the townspeople, who hold Chief Willoughby in high regard and are against her approach. 


Chief Willoughby’s most loyal officer and attack dog is Sam Rockwell as Dixon. The man deserves an antagonist of the year award! When I said backwoods, he was who I was referring to. He plays a heavy drinker with slurred speech and an eighth-grade vocabulary. Sam Rockwell looks like he gained 10 pounds around his gut just to imitate a beer belly. He puts me in the mind of Cletus Spuckler from “The Simpsons.


Dixon is a self-inflated momma’s boy who has never endured consequences for his tasteless actions. He implemented a scorched earth policy against Mildred once he viewed her as the enemy. However, his racist actions served to level the playing field in her favor.


Chief Willoughby, a public figure and family man, attempts to reason peacefully with Mildred. He even uses a personal situation to appeal to her emotions, but to no avail. He then morphs into a character who makes wildly strategic chess moves that will surprise you.


Martin McDonagh has earned multiple accolades for his works. He won an Oliver Award for this film and has since been nominated for an Oscar for “The Banshees of Inisherin (2022). He is the recipient of an Academy Award, four Golden Globe Awards, five Tony nominations; among other awards. 


The interpersonal relationships against the backdrop of a small town setting was very realistic. The local news crew aspect served as a useful link between characters.  


McDonagh’s character-building style is exceptional. I appreciate how he sprinkled their background information throughout the movie and didn’t attempt to overload the first act. The characters remained relevant, which prevented me from becoming bored with them, and allowed me to form a clear opinion about them. I was very impressed with this film. 


If you have some time between assignments, you can add this to your list of cheap activities for the broke college student. 


If you’re still skeptical, you don’t have to take my word for it. I’m not alone in thinking it’s worth the $3.99 it costs on YouTube. The film received a 90% on the TOMATOMETER after 400+ reviews and an audience score of 87% with 10,000+ ratings on If those statistics aren’t enough, go scroll through the IDBM reviews  where “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” received a score of 8.1 out of 10. If you’re still not convinced, just watch the trailer.