Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (2017)


Director: Martin McDonagh

Starring: Francis McDormand, Woody Harrellson, Sam Rockwell

Review Author: Tony

Not one for mincing his words, Martin McDonagh delivers his most refined film yet which aggressively trods the line of dark comedy and touching drama. Three Billboards produces laughs and tears at the most inopportune of moments in this troubled town of Ebbing where everyone carries an essence of misery and resentment but its the moments of respect that shine through. McDonagh doesn’t write characters but rather caricatures, his films operate in a heightened reality where no word is unsaid no matter how controversial it might be, but they are too complex to be considered cartoons.

Seven months after the murder and rape of her daughter, Mildred Hayes is angry. With no arrests or leads, Mildred is fed up with the lack of progress on the polices end in the investigation so she decides to rent three old billboards on the outskirts of town with a message calling the police out, specifically chief Willougby. Problem is Ebbing has a lot of respect for chief Willougby and are far more willing to take his side. Mildred is on a mission fueled by anger, frustration, and fiery passion. In other words, she is more than war ready. While Willoughby is more than able to take on the challenge and the criticism in stride, his unhinged deputy, Dixon can’t help but take it personally.

While he won an Oscar for his short film Six Shooter in 2005, McDonagh’s first feature film was In Bruges. In Bruges was a hilarious dark comedy that worked off the strengths of McDonagh’s playwright background and a strong understanding of Irish humour (especially our misery). McDonagh, who was born in London to two Irish parents, has always had a strong connection to the Emerald Isles which has featured consistently throughout his Theatre days. His second feature film, Seven Psychopaths, saw McDonagh move his setting from Ireland to the American shores. The film has a special place in my heart but wasn’t as universally praised by critics as In Bruges. Much of the criticism was the lack of biting humour of In Bruges and more of a sense of absurdity. It seemed that McDonagh was struggling to find his sense of humour to match the wider audience of the USA.

Frances McDormand’s performance as Mildred deserves all the praise it has already received and more. Mildred may be one tough cookie but there’s a vulnerability to her that shines through. While the police department is the subject of her rage she still shows a level of understanding and respect for chief Willoughby who is probably the only person in town that understands her plight. It’s a fascinating dynamic and really allows two stellar actors to bounce off one another.

McDonagh’s background in playwriting lends to a fantastic script, limited set pieces, fully fleshed out characters and wonderfully dark yet humorous dialogue exchanges. It’s an uncompromising film about suffering and loss which might be a shock to fans of McDonagh’s previous work but it’s coated in a delicious icing of dark comedy and vile but hilarious anecdotes. For a film centered around such a memorable central performance, McDonagh masterfully fleshes out every side character and gives the audience and easy understanding of what side of the fence stand on in this chaotic tale.

Rating: 4.5 / 5 tumblers of whiskey

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