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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Directed by: Martin McDonagh

Screenplay by: Martin McDonagh

Cast:

Rated: R

Warning: Spoilers

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a 2017 drama written, directed, and produced by Martin McDonagh. It stars Frances McDormand as a mother who rents three billboards to call attention to her daughter's unsolved murder.

In the town of Ebbing, Missouri, Mildred Hayes is grieving the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, Angela, seven months earlier. Angry over the lack of progress in the investigation, Mildred rents three abandoned billboards near her home, and posts on them:

  • "Raped While Dying"
  • "Still No Arrests?", and
  • "How Come, Chief Willoughby?"

The billboards upset the townspeople, including Chief Bill Willoughby and Officer Jason Dixon, the latter being a racist and violent alcoholic. The open secret that Willoughby suffers from terminal pancreatic cancer adds to everyone's disapproval. Mildred and her son Robbie are harassed and threatened, but to Robbie's chagrin, his mother stays firm about keeping the billboards up.

While Willoughby is sympathetic to Mildred's frustration, he finds the billboards an unfair attack on his character. Angered by Mildred's lack of respect for his authority, Dixon threatens businessman Red Welby, who rented Mildred the billboards, and he arrests her friend and coworker, Denise, on trivial marijuana possession charges. Mildred is also visited by her abusive ex-husband Charlie, who blames her for their daughter's death.

Willoughby brings Mildred in for questioning after she drills a hole in her dentist's thumb when he threatens her. During the interview, Willoughby coughs up blood. He leaves the hospital against medical advice and spends an idyllic day with his wife Anne and their two daughters, then commits suicide due to his illness. He leaves suicide notes for several people, including Mildred, in which he explains that she was not a factor in his suicide and that he secretly paid to keep the billboards up for another month, amused at the trouble this will bring her and hope that they will keep attention on the murder. Dixon reacts to the news of Willoughby's death by assaulting Welby and throwing him out of a window. This is witnessed by Willoughby's replacement, Abercrombie, who fires Dixon. Meanwhile, Mildred is threatened by a crop-haired stranger in her store.

The billboards are destroyed by arson. Mildred retaliates by tossing Molotov cocktails at the police station, which she believes is unoccupied for the night. However, Dixon is there to read Willoughby's letter to him, which advises him to let go of hate and learn to love, as the only way to realize his wish to become a detective. Dixon escapes with Angela's case file but suffers severe burns. Mildred's acquaintance James witnesses the incident and provides Mildred with an alibi, claiming they were on a date. Dixon is treated for his burns, and he is temporarily confined in the same hospital room as Welby, to whom he apologizes.

Discharged from the hospital, Dixon overhears the man who threatened Mildred bragging in a bar of an incident similar to Angela's murder. He notes the Idaho license plate number of the man's vehicle, then provokes a fight by scratching the man's face. At home later, he removes a sample of the man's DNA from under his fingernails. Meanwhile, Mildred goes on a date with James to thank him for the alibi. Charlie enters with his 19-year-old girlfriend Penelope and admits to burning the billboards while intoxicated. After accidentally causing James to leave, Mildred apologetically tells Charlie to treat Penelope well and leaves.

Though commending him, Abercrombie informs Dixon that the DNA sample does not match DNA found on Angela's body, and that the man was overseas on military duty at the time of the murder. Dixon concludes that the man must be guilty of some other rape, and joins Mildred on a trip to Idaho in order to kill him. On the way, Mildred confesses to Dixon that she set the police station on fire. He indicates that he knew already. They express reservations about their mission but agree to decide what to do along the way.

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