Director: Martin McDonagh
Running Time: 1 hour 55 minutes
Browsing through this years lists of awards winners and nominees, one film is bound to strike up your curiosity. The uniquely titled Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The title doesn’t really give you any idea what kind of a film this is going to be. Is it a drama? Comedy? Thriller? Who knows.
Driving through town one night, I saw the film poster (rather aptly) on a billboard, proclaiming the lengthy title and the directors name- Martin McDonagh. Ah- I thought. It makes sense now.
The film is exactly what you expect from a McDonagh brother. Martin’s second US venture after Seven Psychopaths (2012) is definitely darker, and veers dangerously closer to drama than comedy- but displays all the classic traits of his previous films.
The film opens with Mildred Hayes hiring three billboards on a road nobody seems to use. She pays a high sum for these billboards, checking first the legal ramifications for defamatory comments and threats.
It isn’t until later, when Dixon (Sam Rockwell) a local cop, drives past that we see what these billboards display. “Raped while dying, and still no arrests? How come Chief Willoughby?”
Through the fallout with follows the erection of these billboards, the audience learns that Mildred is the mother of Angela- a girl whose rape and murder has been left unsolved, the police devoid of leads.
Enter an angry town, who seem to be more outraged about Mildred’s declaration against their beloved Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) than the death of Angela. Lead by Dixon, they seen intent to make Mildred’s life a misery – and she is not afraid to fight back.
It is refreshing to see such a strong female lead in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and Frances McDormand is a tour de force. She plays the part without fault, her pain and anger visible in every shot. Her character, Mildred, does some pretty insane things – but McDormand makes it so believable it is hard not to think that you would not do the exact same thing in her situation.
I personally am keeping my fingers crossed for McDormand for the Academy Award this year (Sorry Saoirse Ronan- but she really does deserve it).
I have to say that the acting really is superb across the board in this film. Woody Harrelson lives up to his usual flawless standard, but the real surprise was Sam Rockwell. Having already starred in McDonaghs last offering Seven Psychopaths alongside Harrelson, I knew I could rely on Rockwell to deliver a strong comedic performance. However, in the screenplay for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh has given Rockwell a lot more to chew on. It has been a long time since I have seen such a powerful and believable character arc in a film. Dixon begins violent, short tempered and (it is strongly suggested) racist. About half way through the film, you just think that these traits are getting stronger and stronger- until a powerful wake up call shakes Dixon to his core, and he slows down. He thinks about things. He becomes the man the audience is willing him to be. Still violent and admittedly not the sharpest knife in the drawer- but calm, collected and strong.
Rockwell and McDormand play brilliantly opposite each other- and as the film descends into an ‘Itchy and Scratchy’ style fight between the two, it is both hilarious and nail bitingly disturbing.
I have read several reviews which seem to be slating Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri for it’s racist undertones and violent message. However, I think these reviews have completely mis-judged this film.
Whilst McDonagh’s films often blur the line between dark comedy and going too far- they never promote racism or prejudice- in fact, McDonagh only uses this to make his characters come across more deplorable. No-one is supposed to sympathise with Dixon, at least not in the beginning. These aren’t characters that are designed to be relatable- you have to bite your lip and take it with a pinch of salt.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is very similar to McDonagh’s In Bruges (2008) in this aspect. It is very dark comedy- so if you are sensitive to that kind of humour, you will hate this film. However, if you can take it (and believe me- McDonagh tries his best to offend as many people as he can in this movie- as a Catholic myself I had to take a deep breath as Mildred lays into her local Priest) you will be able to appreciate this film for what it is.
The problem with a film with a premise like Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’s, is that the audience are left with a very specific question. Who killed Angela? Will they solve this crime?
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not about Angela’s murder. It is about Mildred’s journey to coping with the aftermath. It is about her, and the town, finding closure and moving on. Is this even achievable? This is what the film tries to answer. Personally I found the ending to leave too many of my own questions unanswered, but I guess that was McDonagh’s point. Sometimes in life we don’t get the answers to our questions. Some crimes are solved, some are left unsolved. When it comes to Angela’s murder- you’ll have to watch to find out.
You’re curious, aren’t you?