Martin McDonagh’s latest is a hot favourite to take home this year’s ‘Best Film’ Academy Award. Seven months after the horrifying murder of a teenage girl in Ebbing, Missouri the local police department are yet to identify any suspects or make any arrests. In a whirlwind of grief, the mother of the murdered rents three billboards on a road into town – together the three boards shift blame onto the local police and in particular its chief of police, Willoughby. Mildred, responsible for the antagonistic advertisements, is on a mission to name, shame and advertise those she deems responsible for the injustice of her daughter’s unresolved death. What follows is a twisted tale of sorrow, heartache and humanity, all told through a unique bunch of misfits and flawed individuals. Mildred is out for blood, taking the situation into her own merciless hands as the town around her reacts to her bold trio of a statement. Similarly to the men at the heart of McDonagh’s sensational In Bruges, here our protagonist and supporting characters are evidently not great people but, regardless, seek redemption, something they themselves perhaps know is most likely unattainable. Along the way Mildred must face reporters, ex-family members and religious figures as well as Willoughby himself and his junior office – an inebriated, ignorant caricature of a cop who – considering the USA’s repeated recent treatment of black communities by white police – is more concerning than comedic. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a humbling. hilarious, human tale of grief, guilt and goading in the face of unimaginable tragedy.
A woman riddled with not only grief but guilt, Mildred – in all her fury and fragility – is brought to life by Frances McDormand. It’s the most striking role of her career, since Fargo. McDonagh’s script and McDormand’s performance elevate the film to award-worthy heights, with McDonagh evidently trusting his performers to bring out the rage and misery in his writing. All the characters morph from caricatures to something more complex as the film proceeds. McDormand brings a captivating rage to a film which continues to amuse and surprise. The comedy and horror is perhaps best balanced by Sam Rockwell in the role of a racist cop – still living at home with his mother and abusing his power to satisfy his fragile masculinity. You can’t help but pity him and his childlike approach to the world; an all in all sorry affair. Woody Harrelson is Willoughby – a popular local figure, targeted directly by Mildred’s behaviour. The film also features some delightful turns from two exciting and relatively new talents within American cinema – Caleb Landry Jones (Heaven Knows What, Get Out) and Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea, Lady Bird). The comedy is rich but so is the horror, as Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri asks big questions about relationships, redemption, justice and revenge. McDormand commands the screen, the film at its best when her character’s sharp cynicism briefly cracks, replaced by the sheer desperation brought on by unimaginable agony. I was won over by the film’s rich heart and bold approach to its subject matter, despite In Bruges remaining my firm favourite within McDonagh’s portfolio.
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