How can anyone not love Sam Rockwell?
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” stars Frances McDormand as a grieving mother of a recently murdered daughter. After no arrests are made by the police after several months, she takes out ads on three billboards in order to draw public attention to the case. Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage also star as Martin McDonagh directs his own script.
Martin McDonagh doesn’t make too many movies (this is only his third) but when he does he swings for the fences. His debut film “In Bruges” got him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and his follow-up “Seven Psychopaths” is fantastically fun (he has also won an Academy Award for Best Short Film). His latest film “Three Billboards” is his most sobering and grounded to-date, still maintaining the dark humor and sudden violence he has become known for, and while it hits some bumps along the way he draws great performances out of a stellar cast.
Like I said up top, I love Sam Rockwell and feel he is a national treasure. He stole the show in “Iron Man 2,” was the highlight of McDonagh’s “Seven Psychopaths” and here gives possibly a career-best performance. Playing a mama’s boy police officer, Rockwell is a good-hearted but ill-tempered man with a lack of boundaries and self-control. He beats people up for no reason and starts yelling when situations don’t require it but he is loyal to Woody Harrelson’s sheriff.
Frances McDormand plays the mother and even though there is anger, frustration and sadness behind her eyes she rarely lets it show, waiting until late to let her emotions finally boil over. It is a layered performance that surely will rank among her best and she and Rockwell hold the film up during its weaker points.
Harrelson is the middle-ground between Rockwell and McDormand, a man who is gentle when he needs to be but also calculating. It is somewhat of a deus ex machina role but Harrelson does it well and it is always nice to see him show up in films.
McDonagh’s script isn’t as sharp or funny as his previous works but he does find a nice balance between the dark humor and human drama. Character motivations are unclear and a person who may seem the relatable and sympathetic in one scene will flip and become an awful human in another. Every character in the film has a dark side and lets it show but they almost all get some sort of redemption.
It may the film’s intention because it is the whole point of the story but there is a growing sense of unease and frustration as you watch. Characters get away with actions that should land them in prison but nothing comes about it; it could be a plot hole or it could be McDonagh’s way of reiterating that, like the unsolved murder of McDormand’s daughter, not all crimes get the punishment they deserve and not every ending gets tied up in a perfect bow.
Certain aspects of the film seem pointless or draw away from the stories we are invested in, like McDormand being flirted with by Peter Dinklage and being guilt-tripped into a date. It adds little to the film and plot short of a few laughs and one quick loose-end tie-up, and I just wanted to get back to what Rockwell was up to.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a film that will stick with you long after the credits have rolled and I’m still trying to let it marinate in my mind. To me it is in between McDonagh’s other two films, with “Seven Psychopaths” still being his best work, but thanks to great work from Rockwell and McDormand most any flaw here is overlooked.
Critics Rating: 8/10
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