THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Produced by: Graham Broadbent, Pete Czernin, Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage
Marvel and DC comics continue to punt their wares in cinemas and on TV providing us with comforting visions of super-people and alien heroes guarding Earth and galaxies far, far away. We need these characters and events to, amidst the fighting and explosions, make us feel safe by providing neat, happy, ribbon-tied endings which find the evil-doers crushed and our spirits raised as we return to reality. However, there are also writers and filmmakers who challenge our perception of reality, presenting it not as black and white; good and bad; with justice and redemption prevailing. No, certain filmmakers present a muddied view of the world; an unjust and angry vision of humanity; a complex perspective where there aren’t necessarily good people doing good things but rather good people doing bad and bad people, sometimes, just sometimes, trying to be good.
Screenwriter (and director) Martin McDonagh has, in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri constructed one of most challenging screenplays of the year. It does not hold up to any politically correct agenda as it paints the world as a cancerous, racist and vicious place where murder and rape crimes go unsolved and grief-stricken vigilantism seems to be the only means of gaining some movement toward closure. As a playwright Martin McDonagh was always drawn to violence and dark humour. His first film, In Bruges (2008), was a darkly hilarious existential comedy-drama. His follow-up Seven Psychopaths (2012) was a heady mix of criminals versus writers in a meta-fictional Hollywood-based narrative; yet with Three Billboards, McDonagh has delivered his best film to date. With its’ singing and stinging script we have a highly emotional drama brimming with incredible characterization, dialogue and zinging one-liners.
Following the murder of her daughter Mildred Hayes, portrayed with an iron veneer by the remarkable Frances McDormand, no longer prepared to sit by and wait for her daughter’s killers to be found. Firing a rocket into the patriarchal-dominated police department ran by Chief Bill Willoughby (a brilliant Woody Harrelson) she sets in motion a series of unforgettably tragic, violent and blackly comedic scenes. In using the three billboards to question Willoughby’s investigation she utilises physical media as a larger form of the ‘Scarlet Letter’; an old fashioned “name and shame” device. Because Mildred, is refreshingly traditional and old-fashioned and in rural, small-town America the Internet just won’t hack it for her. She is about direct, in-your-face and ballsy action.
Supporting McDormand is phenomenal ensemble cast including: Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, and Abbie Cornish etc. Sam Rockwell is especially memorable as the immature, inept and thuggish mother’s boy, Jason Dixon. His scenes with both Frances McDormand and his on-screen Mother, played with deadpan gusto by Sandy Martin, crack with complex emotion and humour. Collectively they portray imperfect characters whose lives have not just been dealt a bum hand but their situation is exacerbated by poor decisions based on grief and frustration with life and the world. Rockwell’s Dixon is arguably the most controversial character as he is essentially a racist man-child and a terrible cop who, via Mildred’s violent actions, awakes from his moronic coma to strive for redemption.
McDonagh script is fantastically dark as he imbues each of the characters with a flawed, yet rounded humanity. He takes risks by making his main protagonist, despite her loss, kind of unlikeable. Yet we are always with Mildred because she is righteous and swimming against the tide of authority. Below the tough exterior though there is also a vulnerability which makes us love her too and empathise fully with her loss. Ultimately, this is an excellent cinematic experience funny, shocking and moving; only possible because of the expert script from a great writer.
Mark: 10 out of 11