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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
4K UHD Released: 2/27/2018

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Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/28/2018

One of the more minor problems with the world today (in relations to all of the huge problems which are occurring at the moment) is that movies have simply become too homogenous and predictable. If the trailer doesn't give everything away (which happens more and more), then once you begin to watch the movie, you immediately feel as if you've seen it all before. For something to have even a semblance of originality these days, a movie must be quirky or experimental, two things which are immediately going to limit its accessibility. But, there is an exception to every rule and once in a while we get a movie which feels familiar on the surface, but manages to bring in some new ideas. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri definitely fits this bill.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is an angry, grieving mother. Nearly a year ago, her daughter was raped and murdered, but no arrests have been made in the case. Feeling that the local police aren't focused on the case, Mildred rents three billboards on a rural and uses them to ask the police why there hasn't been any progress, singling out Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) by name. Hot-headed deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell) wants to challenge Mildred, but the cooler Willoughby prevails and attempts to reason with Mildred. But, the billboards have already created a rift in the community and soon Mildred is seen as a pariah.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri comes from Writer/Director Martin McDonagh, who's last film was 2012's Seven Psychopaths. That movie defied expectations, as the trailer made it look like a Taratino ripoff, but it actually proved to be a very clever and original movie. Similarly, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film which isn't what you think it is going to be. This occurs for two reasons.

First of all, the main premise is fairly original. Yes, we've seen other movies where grief-stricken parents and family members have gone to extreme measures to either draw attention to a murder case or seek revenge on their own. However, the use of the billboards is somewhat unique in the way that they specifically call out the Sheriff. (In the extra features included here, McDonagh states that this is based on something which is actually saw.) From there, the movie continues to surprise as the story unfolds. In short, this is not a murder-mystery, and the actual case rarely takes center stage. The movie examines how a tragedy can damage a community and the different ways in which people react. Some empathize with Mildred, while others lash out at her. We see how some want to move on with this lives, while Mildred is still dealing with the murder. Just when it seems that McDonagh has settled on a specific direction for the movie, it pivots, leading to a conclusion that is surprising and touching.

The other truly interesting there here are the characters themselves and how they interact. There are a lot of flawed people in Ebbing and McDonagh doesn't shy away from showing their imperfections. In fact, he seems to be toying with some standard conventions. In many ways, Mildred is not a likable person and an unlikely main character. But, as we know that she's a grieving mother, we immediately side with her, despite the crazy things which she does. Conversely, Dixon is instantly unlikable, and he doesn't do much to change that, but as the movie progresses, we begin to understand him somewhat better. Based on the billboards, we expect Willoughby to be the villain, but he's a very level-headed man, and Harrelson brings a true humanity to him. These characters all do some questionable things, but the movie has a lot to say about forgiveness and what people do to simply keep going.

The one odd thing about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is that it's somewhat cold and distant. You will react to the movie, especially the scene in which Dixon goes berserk, but for a movie about a murdered teenaged girl, it's not very emotional. While McDonagh certainly shows us what the characters are doing, for the most part, he doesn't make us privy to what they are thinking or what their pasts were like. (And we certainly don't know why Ebbing would have a gift shop.) The organic nature of the characters will draw the viewer in and the off-kilter humor helps to keep the movie from being too dark, but the lack of emotion keeps the film from being a true slam-dunk. Of course, the Oscar-winning performances here are very strong, and the actors truly bring these characters to life. For many reasons, pro and con, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an unique experience, and even if it doesn't move you or live up to the hype, you'll be glad that you checked it out.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri also made me question the constant coveralls on 4K UHD courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a 2160p HD transfer which runs at an average of 65 Mbps. The image is sharp and clear, showing no notable grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look very good, most notably reds and oranges, and the image is never overly dark or bright (despite the movie having a slightly dark tone). The level of detail is excellent, and the depth works quite well as the actors are clearly separate from the backgrounds. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. While this isn't a big action film or anything like that, it's still somewhat disappointing when a 4K UHD doesn't have a 7.1 track. Having said that, the sound here is very good. The fiery scenes provide nice subwoofer and surround sound effects. Likewise, the second one delivers excellent stereo and surround effects, placing us in the middle of the action.

All of the extra features for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are found on the accompanying Blu-ray Disc. We begin with five DELETED SCENES which run about seven minutes and, for some reason, don't have a "Play All" option. These are new scenes which weren't included in the film, but there are no new characters or subplots here. "Crucify 'Em: The Making of Three Billboards" (29 minutes) contains comments from McDonagh and the cast, as well as a nice amount of behind-the-scenes footage. McDonagh gives some information about the story's origin, but not enough. We mostly get an analysis of the characters and the story's themes. "Six Shooter" (27 minutes), McDonagh's 2006 Oscar-winning short film is included here. The extras are rounded out by a still gallery and three TRAILERS for the film.

Review Copyright 2018 by Mike Long