Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri




When THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI played at the 2017 Venice Film Festival, it had the audience breaking out in spontaneous applause at some of the brilliantly audacious, intricately skilful and richly written dialogue.


Unsurprisingly, it won the Golden Osella for Best Screenplay for director / writer Martin McDonagh.  


The Oscar winning McDonagh has written and directed two previous features, IN BRUGES and SEVEN PSYCHOPATHS and his expertise at both tasks is formidable. But this is his crowning achievement thus far.  An immensely powerful film on all levels that has already been awarded four Golden Globes (Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Lead Actress, Best Supporting Actor) and garnered four Screen Actors Guild nominations and I guarantee will appear strongly in the Oscar line up this year.


Giving her best work since her Oscar winning FARGO in 1997, the combustible screen force that is Frances McDormand is simply stunning here.  Her mastery of signaling internal language is prodigious and what many actresses may require a lengthy monologue to deliver, the mighty McDormand can convey with one withering glance. And her Thespian prowess does not just shine in the highly dramatic and attention-grabbing scenes.  It is equally remarkable in the minor beats where a trace of a tear, the curl of a lip, the intake of breath carry a universe of emotion. 


She is Mildred Hayes, a divorced mother whose daughter Angie was raped, murdered and incinerated on her way home from work and when some months later, no progress has been made in the investigation and the police appear to be moving on to other cases, Mildred, incandescent with rage, sets out on a crusade to embarrass and shock local law enforcement into action.  The mainly impecunious Mildred somehow scrapes together $5000 to rent three billboards for a month on a little used road into town.  The massive-scale signs read – “Raped While Dying” – “Still No Arrests” – “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”.  The Chief (Woody Harrelson) seems a decent family man who has clearly not been incompetent in his job and while speaking to Mildred tells her of his efforts thus far and also that he is dying of cancer.  But his grim fate is irrelevant to Mildred.  Blinded by grief, guilt and a searing anger, she is utterly blinkered and nothing will shift her determination to locate Angie’s killer.


While Willoughby seems genuine and helpless in the situation, his deputy Dixon (a stellar Sam Rockwell) reacts with violence.  He is sexist, racist, unintelligent, controlled by his semi-psychotic mother and worships the Chief with an almost slavish adoration.


Mildred’s remaining child, a son Robbie (Lucas Hedges, so good in MANCHESTER BY THE SEA) is conflicted and as most of the townsfolk side with Willoughby, he is targeted at school for his mother’s actions.  A visit from the local priest urging her to abandon her campaign is met by a lethal verbal attack from Mildred about pedophile clergy.  Her ex husband Charlie (John Hawkes) is also viciously combating her stance.  One of her sole allies, Red (Caleb Landry Jones) who leased the billboards to her is brutally savaged by an out of control Deputy Dixon.


McDonagh’s writing is so incisive and clever that there are ultimately no real heroes or villains.  Every character has both feet of clay and laudable aspects.  You will find fault aplenty with Mildred and redemptive and saving qualities with Dixon.


By turns hellishly comic and achingly melancholy, this viewing experience is a visceral hit to the mind.  Every actor delivers fault-free and arresting performances but Rockwell and McDormand give the finest work of their respective careers.  It is hard-hitting and thought-provoking and an out and out masterpiece of film making.  









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