First, many thanks to Secret Agent of Unknown Table-Tennis club, who bought this USA disc for me while he was on a business trip to California. He gave the disc to me on Monday 7th May 2018, a fortnight before the (slightly different) UK version of the disc was released.
The Plot: Award-winning actress Frances McDormand (Fargo) delivers a stunningly powerful performance in this darkly comic drama that has been hailed as one of the year's best films. A murdered girl's defiant mother (McDormand) boldly paints three local billboards, each with a controversial message, igniting a furious battle with a volatile cop (Sam Rockwell) and the town's revered chief of police (Woody Harrelson) (Disc sleeve).
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a no nonsense divorcée with a teenage son named Robbie (Lucas Hedges). As she drives the narrow winding country road leading to her home one day, she stops in front of three old billboards in various states of disrepair due to years of nonuse. Mildred then marches into the somewhat less than deluxe "headquarters" of Ebbing Advertising, the company in charge of the billboards, and hands manager Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) $5,000 for one month's rent for all three, giving him a notebook page listing what she wants them to say.
Addle pated policeman Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell, Academy Award nominated for this performance) is driving his patrol car down that same road a few days later, stumbling across workers affixing huge reddish pink banners on the billboards taking Dixon's boss, Sherriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, also Academy Award nominated for this performance) to task for failing to have made any arrests in a horrifying rape and murder. An earlier allusion in a conversation between Mildred and Red makes it clear that Mildred is on a quest for justice for her murdered daughter.
That is, in essence, the underlying plot conceit of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but what makes this film so continually compelling is how it keeps juggling its characters in unusual ways. One of these is in the very early going, where one might assume that Mildred would be the sympathetic "victim" and Willoughby the martinet and ineffective cop, but what ensues is quite the opposite. Willoughby comes off as a concerned professional trying to make a kind of harridan Mildred realize that sometimes cases take years to solve, especially when there are no witnesses and when DNA testing has come up empty in both local and national databases. What's even more remarkable even this early in the film is that, despite evident shortcomings in virtually all of the characters, every somewhat eccentric person in the screenplay comes across as a fully realized human being, despite the patent artificiality of some of the setup (Blu-ray.com).
The video: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is presented on 1080p Blu-ray courtesy of 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.39:1. Ben Davis captured the imagery with Arri Alexa cameras, with a 2K DI, and the results are quite appealing, with gorgeous shots of the countryside interspersed with more dowdy environments like the Dixson shack or even Mildred's own home. Some of the footage has a kind of dewy, soft and even mist laden ambience, but detail levels are uniformly quite high, even in some "arty" shots where back lighting gives elements a kind of effulgent glow that resembles halos. The palette pops quite winningly, with elements like the almost candy red-pink billboards looking extremely vivid. Fine detail on close-ups is routinely excellent, and is even quite good on some of the wider vistas employed in outdoor shots. There are no issues with compression anomalies (4.5).
The audio: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri only gets a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix on both the 4K and 1080p discs. Even so, we didn't find the movie lacking from an audio perpective; it's hardly an action blockbuster, after all. What you do get sounds clean and open, it's alive with haunting details, and revels in Carter Burwell's haunting score (HCC 285, May 2018) (3.5).