A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an intense, sharply written crime-related drama with excellent performances (especially by star Frances McDormand). Expect some intense moments of violence, including assault by a police officer, a man grabbing a woman by the throat, fighting, beating with blunt objects, a man being horribly beaten and thrown through a window, a man being burned in a fire, threats with a knife, a drill being put through a thumbnail, someone coughing up blood, a man shooting himself in the head, references to rape, and more. Language is also extremely strong, with many uses of "f--k," "s--t," the "N" word," "c--t," and much more. A married couple has sex offscreen (it's referred to but not shown). Characters smoke cigarettes and drink socially, and there are references to drinking problems, hangovers, and drug use.
What's the story?
In THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is still -- understandably -- grieving and angry a year after her daughter was raped and murdered, with the perpetrator never found. While driving a lonely stretch of road, Mildred spots three unused billboards. So she rents them and puts up a message for the local police chief, Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), calling him out for his failure to find the person who killed her daughter. Her act doesn't sit well with her fellow citizens, especially dim-bulb police officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell). Mildred finds herself and her friends threatened on several occasions, especially when someone tries to burn down her billboards. Meanwhile, Willoughby is guarding his own terrible secret. Then, it's none other than Dixon, inspired by Willoughby, who steps up and tries to help.
Is it any good?
So sharply written that it cuts, the third movie from award-winning playwright Martin McDonagh is a dramedy that starts with cleverness and wit, then opens up into something truthfully human. Aptly titled, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, features superb, lyrical dialogue so good that every single cast member, no matter how little screen time, gives a superb performance. McDormand in particular hasn't been this good since her Oscar-winning turn in Fargo. Yet Three Billboards never seems too clever for its own good. It's a stronger effort than McDonagh's In Bruges or Seven Psychopaths; beneath the sparkling verbiage are genuine, complex emotions.
There's hope here -- and love -- but also hate, rage, and grief, just like life. They're are all mixed up in a most bracing way. At the same time, the movie tackles things like murder, cancer, and racism, but never in a way that might seem obvious or pandering. It's not a movie about suspense or solutions; things are deliberately messy in this world, even if McDonagh presents them in a pin-neat manner. Blessed with pitch-perfect cinematography and production design, the movie offers many great scenes and no bad ones. But nothing quite prepares you for the final scene, a thoughtful, human moment that should resonate for some time.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri's use of violence. How much is shown, and how much is mentioned or threatened? What's the overall effect? What's the impact of media violence on kids?
How does the movie broach the subject of racism? Which characters are racist? How can you tell? How do things change, if at all?
What effect does Mildred's billboard scheme have? Was her action a positive move? Or was it something more akin to revenge or anger?
How does the movie portray and address suicide? Do you agree with that depiction?
- In theaters: November 10, 2017
- On DVD or streaming: February 27, 2018
- Cast: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson
- Director: Martin McDonagh
- Studio: Fox Searchlight
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 115 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, language throughout, and some sexual references
- Awards/Honors: Academy Award, Golden Globe
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.