Best Actress (Frances McDormand)

Best Supporting Actor (Sam Rockwell)

FOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES (2018)

Director: Martin McDonagh

Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones

“I don’t think them billboards is very fair.”

 

Martin McDonagh returns with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (how about that title, eh?), a movie which features three billboards outside of the small (fictional) town of Ebbing, Missouri. Now that the confusion surrounding the indistinct title is out of the way…

 

Seven months have passed since the brutal murder of Mildred Hayes’ (McDormand) daughter. Seven long, painful months made even worse by the lack of success and endeavour from the police investigation, headed by local sheriff Bill Willoughby (Harrelson). Deciding to send a very public message, Mildred rents out three dilapidated billboards near her home to broadcast her simmering rage.

Raped While Dying. Still No Arrests? How Come, Chief Willoughby?

 

Three linked messages, each one adorning a large red and black billboard – all designed to put a rocket up the local police department and spread the word of the case. They certainly get noticed. Willoughby and fellow officer (snivelling, racist mummy’s boy) Jason Dixon (Rockwell) are enraged at the sight and local media are quick to begin reporting on the towns newest additions. Mildred’s son Robbie (Hedges) gets bullied at school because of the signs and her abusive ex-husband Charlie (Hawkes) angrily voices his displeasure to her. However, in the face of the ensuing vitriol, Mildred remains stoic and unmoved.

 

The billboards take on extra significance as Willoughby reveals he has cancer to a still unyielding Mildred and as the town begins to turn on her, motivations become blurred, bubbling rage emerges and things don’t go the way you may have envisaged.

 

Forceful, fizzing with fury, darkly humorous and emotionally heavy, Three Billboards is a weighty watch. There’s little levity and the cruelty of life is displayed at each turn – the death of a child that spawned the billboards, prevalent racist attitudes, the danger of power and that vile robber of life, cancer, to list a few. Equally, there’s the message that without the strong emotions of hate and resentment, the path wouldn’t be clear for compassion and understanding to rise. It’s an astonishingly well-written piece of cinema from McDonagh.

 

The writing ensures that you never quite know what’s coming next or which end of the pendulum the characters will swing to. At times you’ll stand with Mildred and at others, you’ll begin to question her – is she beginning to lose her marbles? Has she become so consumed by rage that she’ll stop at nothing? Similarly, with Dixon – he’s racist, he’s arrogant, he’s wired but as the movie rolls on, Dixon begins to check himself and his arc begins to shift to different places also. The fact that the writing can have you switching sides effortlessly and morally is a testament to the movie. Woody Harrelson’s character has the most ‘straight-forward’ arc, the proud lawman who is genuinely hurt by the billboards and sincerely wants to bring justice for Mildred in a freezing cold case – the scene overlooking the billboards where he confesses his illness to an uncompromising Mildred will probably still one of the most devastating scenes come the end of 2018 for me. There’s plenty of killer lines and monologues throughout that’ll draw you in and hold you right there.

 

Frances McDonagh is a force of nature in the lead role. Whether it’s channelling her anger at anyone who dares cross her or silently feeling the weight of the unfolding situations, her on-screen presence is incredible. A role that could have fallen in lesser hands is accomplished completely here and it’s magnificent to watch. The yin to her yang, Sam Rockwell is also fantastic in his deep role as the crooked cop beaten into action by everything going on around him, it’s a great change of face for Rockwell and he is extremely good here. Harrelson is as good as ever with a role swimming in pathos and the supporting cast – including Lucas Hedges, Samara Weaving, Peter Dinklage and Caleb Landry Jones – all perform impressively.

 

Taking a break from Marvel movies, DoP Ben Davis crafts a fine looking movie in the small town he’s been presented to create. Capturing Southern hallmarks and bathing scenes in a dusky palette, and sunburst glory in others, the visuals are almost as appealing as the narrative. Throw in the Western-styled soundtrack and the stage is set.

 

Great characters, great performances and great writing make Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. With ambiguity flowing through it, the movie keeps you thinking and guessing all throughout and ensures you're never100% sure where to align yourself. Frances McDormand is superb in this hard-hitting crime drama that grabs you and doesn’t let you go. Brilliant.

January 12th 2018

© 2016 Matt Hudson / What I Watched Tonight / Essex

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