Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

In Brief: The best movie of the year. Period.

The in brief comment says Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is best movie of the year. Okay, we all know it is early in the season. So the best I can say it is the best movie of the year so far since the best of the best is on its way as we move into the holiday season and march toward a new year. But — damn — from the story to the acting to the film’s presentation, this one is going to be very, very hard to beat.

You’ve likely seen the trailer. If you haven’t here’s the plot outline. Francis McDormand is Mildred. Her daughter was murdered and months later, the case is at a dead end. She doesn’t think the local police chief and his minions — done wonderfully by Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell and Zeiljko Ivanek — are doing enough to find her killer.

So she buys three dilapidated billboards just outside of Ebbing asking why the police aren’t doing their job. You don’t really need to know more. The plot is that simple. How all the characters interact and how things unfold from there is nuanced and complicated.

Wonderfully so.

What’s most beautiful about the movie — if that’s the right adjective and it’s probably not — is how writer/director Martin McDonagh puts it together. He’s the guy who wrote and directed the critically acclaimed In Bruges in 2008. Mildred’s decision to put up the billboards leads to a very human and somewhat intense set of actions by all involved. They range from comic to tragic. What’s most fun about the film is both the comic and the tragic are emphasized.

I really can’t tell you much more about the plot. It’s impossible to really put a good description of what happens down on paper anyway. This is one of those you have to see it to appreciate it films and is what is maybe the best thing about Three Billboards.

Notice the almost overuse of the word best. You’ll have the same reaction when you see the film and you’ll be as blown away as I am and as everybody I know who’s seen the movie.

Even the most shallow characters in McDonagh’s film are deep, complex people. They’re beautifully — there’s that word again — done. It’s how the characters wade through the clever twists of his film and this story that also make it the year’s best.

Will someone please — now and finally — give Sam Rockwell an Oscar, Golden Globe and any number of other awards. That was my first comment at the critic’s screening when quizzed by the studio’s representative. His performance blew me away.

Rockwell is in the same club as Ed Harris, J.K. Simmons, Alfre Woodard, John Goodman, Michael Shannon, Viola Davis, John C. Reilly, Patricia Clarkson and William H. Macy and others too numerous to name them all. They are actors so brilliant they are able to save the most boring and pointless of movies.

That’s Rockwell. He’s very, very good in almost everything he does, but has never been better than here. Rockwell’s Dixon is a dangerous Barney Fife. He’s not the brightest light bulb in the chandelier and Dixon’s behavior causes his chief — done by Harrelson — and just about everyone else he encounters, enormous problems. At the same time, Rockwell’s very serious character is also very, very funny.

No one — and I mean no one — this year has done serious comedy at that level.

My second comment to the studio rep. Will someone finally give Woody Harrelson an Oscar, Golden Globe and a dozen other awards for his work. Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby will be in competition with Rockwell’s Dixon in the best supporting actor category. The calm, center of the storm good-ol-boy is Harrelson’s specialty. That character has never been more special than it is here.

Harrelson is every bit as good in this film as Rockwell and everyone else in this movie.

Before I started raving about the movie itself, I made a third comment to the studio representative. It was about Francis McDormand. She ought to win every award possible about every time she takes a role. McDormand’s Mildred is the center of the film and, grim-faced and determined, fearlessly moves forward through impossible odds and overwhelming obstacles from powerful people.

This is an Oscar, Golden Globe and other award shoo-in performance. No acting this year — other than maybe Rockwell’s — has been better.

The movie is also an Oscar, Golden Globe and other award group best movie of the year shoo-in. So is McDonagh for direction and the brilliant screenplay. As an ensemble, the casting is without equal. The pacing and how the story is told and its twists and turns flawless. Plus — and best of all — McDonagh ends the film the only possible way it can end.

That lead us to the best adjective to describe Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri. The word: perfect.

Director: Martin McDonagh

Stars: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Samara Weaving, Zeiljko Ivanek, Amanda Warren, Clarke Peters

Rated R for mature themes, language. The R is a hard R. Be prepared. This film — if I am correct, and I almost always am, dominates at the Oscars, Golden Globes and with every other movie group’s awards. To say it’s a great movie is an understatement. How good? Give this one a 10 on the Average Joe Movie o to 5 scale.

Click here for showtimes and theaters.

5 to 4 1/2: Must see on the big screen.
4 to 3 1/2: Good film, see it if it’s your type of movie.
3 to 2 1/2: Wait until it comes out on DVD.
2 to 1: Don’t bother.
0:Speaks for itself.

Gary Wolcott has been a movie consultant for KXL since 2014. A lifelong fan of film, he’s been a film critic in radio, television and newspaper for 25-years. Wolcott catches a couple of hundred movies a year and he sees a great many of them so you don’t have to.

Got a movie suggestion or comment? Click here to email him.

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