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Film/TV Three Billboards

Published on January 12th, 2018 | by voxx

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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Out: 12 January
Cert: 15
Length: 115 minutes
Rating: 5/5

Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges

Plot: Months have passed and Mildred Hayes (McDormand) still hasn’t found a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, so she makes a bold move to paint three billboards leading to her town with a controversial message aimed at the police.

After his Oscar nominated debut, ‘In Bruges’, British-Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh has gained a knack for his distinctive sensibilities as a filmmaker. His brilliant third endeavour, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’, is a spectacular combination of his vulgar, politically incorrect, stupidly funny and unfathomably dark sense of humour. He’s never too far away from the shocking elements which tend to lead to awards-upsets, and here he hits pretty much the same notes as his predecessor, ‘Seven Psychopaths’. However, in many ways his latest has a far better, more interesting narrative behind it. He reliably never really falls back in either his storytelling or his comedy antics, and the result is his most accomplished film of all time, but also one of the best and darkest comedies ever.

Frances McDormand gives a terrifying powerhouse performance as Mildred Hayes, a grieving single mother who is unable to come to terms with the fact the local police haven’t done anything about the death of her only daughter, seven months earlier. Living now with her son Robbie (a fantastic Hedges), she has an idea to post a message on the three billboards (outside Ebbing, Missouri – of course). The messages that she intends to print are legal, but also angrily highlight the ineptitude of the local police force, one member in particular named Chief Bill Willoughby (Harrelson), in a hope to call them out for making no arrests. Some, including friends, share their sympathy to her for getting justice, but others feel that her message is solely irresponsible, blankly pointing out the adored Chief Willoughby in short of making him look like a monster. These accusations hurt him. Yet nobody is as hurt as racist cop Officer Dixon (Rockwell), who with his vicious demeanour and anger as a weapon does what he can to get revenge on Mildred, trying to make her life a misery.

Like ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’, there’s a lot going here, as the film often touches on the modern-day Western genre with his storytelling. McDonagh zigs around this small American town eloquently forming three brilliantly written intertwined narratives of three very different people, and he successfully zags through the rising tension of the townspeople who just want Mildred’s fighting to cease. But full praise goes to McDormand, severely clad in dungarees, a bandana (an obvious reference to ‘The Deer Hunter’), complete with steel-toed boots and a devilish look in her eye. McDonagh has essentially turned her into a weapon of destruction and to be fair, destruction is in her mind, and like a fiery gut punch her terrifying yet brilliant performance will make your eyebrows singe (in a good way).

Though anger is not the only element that works its way through here. Those familiar with McDonagh’s work will see ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’as just another time to bring his darkly funny sense of humour to life – and you’d be right. But you’ll be surprised to see that the film comes polished with a warm beating heart that pumps sympathy for its lead star and the other characters at work. It’s one that’s both robustly drawn out and richly written and may even bring a tear to your eye. Unlike his brother John Michael McDonagh’s ‘War on Everyone’, Martin has clearly made a triumphant move to America, filling it with brilliant, masterful filmmaking, so much so that every moment here entrants in the purely distinctive American town life and landscape. And his clever mix in dark comedy, heartfelt drama and the blend of characters is like a Coen Brothers’ film – and really, there’s no higher compliment.

VERDICT: McDonagh’s latest is a dizzying ride anchored by magnetic performances and virtuosic screenwriting; it may be the latest in awards-upsets, but it’s certainly an entertaining and joyful one. 

- By Corey Denford


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