‘Three Billboards’ is a very good movie

Yesterday I went with my friends Hal Bauer and Gayle Mosher to see “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.”  It was the best movie I’ve seen since “Hell or High Water.”   I’d willingly see either movie again.

“Three Billboards” is full of surprising twists, which I don’t want to reveal.  Just when I thought I knew where the story was going, it veered off in another direction.  I just I thought I understood the three main characters, one of them revealed an unexpected side of themselves.  None of this was arbitrary or forced.

Like “Hell or High Water,” “Three Billboards” is full of low-key humor, based on the contradictions of human nature and the foibles of a particular regional culture.  Part of the reason I might go to see either movie a second time is to pick up on some of the nuances I missed.  Yet both movies are tragedies.

“Three Billboards” poses the same dilemma as some of the old Greek tragedies.  On the one hand, you don’t want to be trapped on a cycle of revenge and retaliation.  As a character says, anger only begets greater anger.  On the other, you don’t want to submit to wrong without striking back.  The final scene leaves this dilemma unresolved.

Afterthought [1/28/2018]

After thinking things over, I have some reservations about “Three Billboards.” The power of the acting, script and direction blinded me to the implausibility of the plot.   I still like “Three Billboards” as a parable, but, unlike “Hell or High Water,” it doesn’t have anything to say about American life in general.

Martin McDonagh, the director, was born in London to Irish parents and holds dual Irish-British citizenship.  He is apparently unaware of certain aspects of American life—for example, that, in American small towns, the chief of police is appointed by a mayor and council, and is not part of a distant constabulary.   As far as the movie is concerned, the town of Ebbing, Missouri, might as well not have a mayor and council.

A more serious flaw is that the characters openly commit serious crimes—two cases of assault and battery resulting in serious injury, and one case of arson—and suffer no consequences.  Small-town Missouri in the 21st century is depicted as the equivalent of the lawless Wild West frontier.

I still think it is a good movie, with compelling action and insight into human nature and human justice.  It is just that the action takes place in an alternate universe.




Critics have faulted McDonagh for shrugging off the racism of one of the characters.   The problem is that, although we know the Dixon character, a policeman, has been accused of “torture” of black prisoners, we don’t know the nature of the accusation and the evidence of this guilt, and we don’t see the character saying or doing anything racist.  We do see him viciously attacking a couple of harmless white people, though.

These same critics say that the depiction of this Dixon character’s redemption is unconvincing because it is too easy.  But actually neither he nor the Mildred Hayes character change in any fundamental way.   It is simply that their anger and propensity for violence is redirected and the movie viewer is left to speculate on the consequences.


3 Responses to “‘Three Billboards’ is a very good movie”

  1. Edward Says:

    Now I am interested. I am going to see if the local library has these films. For my part I would like to recommend the documentary “Hands on a Hard Body” about a contest in East Texas. This movie is an unacknowledged masterpiece.


  2. Edward Says:

    This is the first nine minutes:


    I saw this movie years ago in Austin. Besides being very entertaining I found it a new experience. In most movies the director has a few ideas that they emphasize to the viewer. Here it is more like there are many ideas floating in the firmament which don’t come on too strong. It deserves to be better known.


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