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THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – CINEMA REVIEW

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

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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.

MILDRED

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.

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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.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURI

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

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THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – LONDON FILM FESTIVAL REVIEW 2017

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (2017) – LFF REVIEW 2017

“There’s no question that a great script is absolutely essential, maybe the essential thing for a movie to succeed.”Sydney Pollack

Directors are often held up by critics and audience alike as the God’s of film; controlling and pointing and designing and envisioning and corralling their mass creative power to thrust upon the cinema screen. Of course, with many directors or auteurs, the lofty praise is deserved but hey, did they create that vision or story or character arc in a vacuum? No, they had blueprint on a page first. They had a screenplay written by themselves or a determined writer or writing team sitting in a windowless office smoking a thousand cigarettes while slaving to get words on a page in some semblance of a coherent filmic fashion. It seems obvious to say but a great screenplay is the (skeleton) key for any great film; it’s the bones with which to hang the meat and muscle and later the clothes of any movie.  Without powerful bones a film will not stand strong. It will fall.

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Screenwriter (and director) Martin McDonagh has, in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri constructed one of, if not the most, formidable screenplays of the year.  As a playwright he won many awards for his works and his film, In Bruges (2008), was a deceptively simple story of two hitmen on the run which, with rich thematic power, became 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; which while brilliantly written and performed arguably lacked the punch of In Bruges. Now, with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, McDonagh has delivered his best film to date; a highly emotional human drama which contains some of incredible characterization, dialogue and zinging one-liners which bounce off the page and crackle on the screen.

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Eschewing a more traditional structure the script’s inciting event – the murder of a young girl called Angela Hayes (Kathryn Newton) – has already occurred and therefore we are thrust immediately into the grief of main protagonist Mildred Hayes, portrayed with an iron veneer by the remarkable Frances McDormand. Her study of a grieving Mother, who is no longer prepared to sit by and wait for her daughter’s killers to be found, is awe-inspiring. Firing a rocket into the patriarchal-dominated police department ran by Chief Bill Willoughby (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.

As a study of grief this is similar in feel to the majestic Manchester-by-the-Sea (2016) and no doubt, like Kenneth Lonergan, McDonagh will be picking up many awards for his nuanced screenplay. 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 and masculine dominance. Plus, she surprises us with her actions and language and violence. Below the tough exterior though there is also a vulnerability which makes us love her too and empathise fully with her loss.

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McDonagh and his filmmaking team have also put together a phenomenal ensemble cast including: Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, 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 emotion and frustration with life and the world. 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 – and the script goes up to 11!)