FoodnFilm Score: 8.5/10
Warning contains mild spoilers.
Three billboards is not an easy watch. A rewarding one, yes, but a jarring experience for anyone not accustomed to the bold, profane and frank style of writer/director Martin McDonagh.
Frances McDormand commands this Western-tinged drama, with her portrayal of Mildred, a mourning, vengeful mother who will stop at nothing to find justice. In her most memorable role since the Coen brothers tragicomedy Fargo, she combines moments of disconsolate anger with others of unexpected kindness. 7 months on from the rape and murder of her daughter there have still been no arrests. And it’s here that the story finds its anchor.
According to Mildred, the police are 'too busy torturing black folks' to do anything about it, so she decides to light up three billboards on the edge of town with the words ‘7 months and no arrests, raped while dying, how come, Chief Willoughby?’ Her aim is to force the chief of police, played by a soulful and sombre Woody Harrelson, into action. What follows is Mildred's quest not only for justice but also for peace.
Mildred is a battle-born, hard figure, though she still shows moments of heart and sincerity. Part of the magic of McDonagh's screenplay is the way it flits between comedy and tragedy, sometimes in the blink of an eye. Another part of McDonagh's brilliance here is the painting of greys. The film plays with our expectations of characters and pushes the boundaries of right or wrong. In almost stark realism, we see each character act and react to the grief, anger or pain they feel, without necessarily seeing it as 'right' or 'wrong'. It's in this morally grey landscape that we're truly hit by the complexity of the human condition and the visceral power of anger. Life isn't always as simple as doing the right thing or the wrong thing. Sometimes, people just do things out of raw emotion.
The tone of McDonagh’s script and the weight of McDormand's performance make for some powerful scenes. As the audience we're not led to decide the right or wrong in each instance, but to feel what the characters are feeling. In a particularly poignant scene, when Mildred is laying flowers beneath the billboards, she ponders the thought that ‘there ain’t no God, and the whole world’s empty, and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other’ before residing in the words “I hope not."
Willoughby’s subordinate Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is another complex character who initially seems little more than a caricature of the southern racist. Carter Burwell's spaghetti-inspired score and the film’s superb tracking sequences accentuate Dixon’s violent nature. However, beyond these outbursts, Sam Rockwell brings an unexpected depth to the role and sensitively portrays Dixon’s struggles with his own demons.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a sad film. It is a film about pain, grief and the coexistence of broken people in a broken world. It’s frequently funny, constantly moving and a must-see film in 2018.
You can buy your tickets here.
Reviewed by Dave Howarth