Movie review: 'Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri'

Town filled with dysfunction leads a woman to act on behalf of a personal tragedy


Tempo grade: A

Review by Rick Romancito

Mildred Hayes has had it up to here. It has been months since her daughter was murdered, and nothing has been done to find the person responsible. At least as far as she can tell. So, to put it mildly, she’s pissed.

In an act of creative frustration she decides to do something about it, but what she does will upend the tenuous status quo of a town that has lived with secrets and lies for generations. Certainly, writer-director Martin McDonagh has mapped out a dark and potentially distressing scenario with this film, but it is in the execution that he offers an insightful, tough and often hilarious look at a collection of complicated characters.

Every single person has a backstory long enough to provide a Stephen King-length novel, yet we’re only given an artist’s inkling of each to pepper our understanding. Interpreting these quirks is the job of an exceptionally fine cast led by the exceptionally fine Frances McDormand as Mildred.

In a sense, the story has already begun when we first see Mildred get the idea for her act of insurgency. And, when it happens, we get the feeling that the murder that sparked it was the catalyst for a headlong stumble into a kind of purgatory for the citizens of Ebbing.

Murders don’t happen very often in Ebbing. It’s a sleepy little town, with a well-known and revered sheriff, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who leads a small force of mostly good if slightly dim police officers and even tolerates one, his second-in-command named Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who is a notorious drunk prone to uncontrollable rages.

Willoughby is smart and wise in the ways of country-style law enforcement, and his wife Anne (Abbie Cornish) is the apple of everyone’s eye, so when Mildred’s act brings adverse media attention to the town, there aren’t many supporters.

McDonagh, who did “Seven Psycopaths” (2012) and the highly acclaimed “In Bruges” (2008), takes his time and, while some may fidget at slight overindulgences in allowing his actors a little too much room to cut loose, it’s a film that grows on you in a very short time. These are people who are easy to know. But, they are also people who seem stuck in a kind of hell of their own making, signaled in no small way by the writer-director’s lavish use of profanity, some that hits the hard-core wall, throughout. This is no gritty, urban run around, so it’s surprising to hear it among the bucolic streets and rolling green hills of this tight community.

Most of all, this is a film that speaks to the anguish of a woman who is not taken seriously. It speaks to any woman who is too quickly labeled with ugly names for simply speaking up and pushing truth into the faces of unconscious men. Mildred simply wants justice. Is that too much to ask?

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references.

It is showing daily at Mitchell Storyteller Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit

Also showing in Taos …

The following were compiled from press materials.

12 Strong

MPAA rating: R for war violence and language throughout

Mitchell Storyteller 7

In the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001 terror attacks in New York City and Washington, D.C., Capt. Mitch Nelson (Chris Hemsworth) leads a U.S. Special Forces team into Afghanistan for a dangerous mission. Once there, the soldiers develop an uneasy partnership with the Northern Alliance to take down the Taliban and its al-Qaida allies. Outgunned and outnumbered, Nelson and his forces face overwhelming odds in a fight against a ruthless enemy that takes no prisoners.

This film will be screened daily.

Mitchell Storyteller 7 Theatres, 110 Old Talpa Cañón Road. For show times, tickets and additional information, call (575) 751-4245 or visit

The Shape of Water

MPAA rating: R for sexual content, graphic nudity, violence and language

Movies at the TCA

From master storyteller Guillermo del Toro comes “The Shape of Water,” an otherworldly fable set against the backdrop of Cold War- era America circa 1962. In the hidden, high-security government laboratory where she works, lonely Elisa (Sally Hawkins) is trapped in a life of isolation. Elisa's life is changed forever when she and co-worker Zelda (Octavia Spencer) discover a secret classified experiment.

She lives in an old apartment above a movie-theater, and she usually watches television with her other friend, her next-door neighbor Giles (Richard Jenkins), who is a gay artist. When a creature captured in a South American river is brought to the laboratory, Elisa feels curiosity. She secretly feeds it every night with egg and listens to music in his room, and they become close to each other.

Rounding out the cast are Michael Shannon, Richard Jenkins, Michael Stuhlbarg, and Doug Jones.

This film will be screened at 2 p.m. Sunday (Jan. 28), and at 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday (Jan. 29-31).

Movies at the TCA film series, Taos Community Auditorium, 145 Paseo del Pueblo Norte. For tickets and additional information, call the Taos Center for the Arts at (575) 758-2052 or visit


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