THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Directed by Martin McDonagh. Starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry-Jones.
THE PLOT: Seven months after her daughter was raped and brutally murdered, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), frustrated with the lack of progress by the police department, decides to rent out three billboards on a rarely used road, to put up a message demanding answers. The billboards cause a considerable stir in the small town where Mildred lives, but she refuses to back down from her crusade for the truth.
THE VERDICT: Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, ‘Three Billbards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ has already scooped Audience Awards at film festivals around the world, as well as the gong for Best Screenplay at the Venice Film Festival and three Golden Globes. The story is one of love and loss, and although the story has strong messages and some dark laughs throughout, there are significant problems throughout the film that diminish its considerable impact.
Frances McDormand has never been better in the leading role as Mildred. Mildred has a gruff and abrasive exterior, but McDormand also makes Mildred a character bereft and grieving after the death of her daughter; a character so caught up in her own pain that she often overlooks other peoples’. Woody Harrelson plays Chief Willoughby, the person mentioned by name in Mildred’s billboards, and makes the character a multilayered one; a man capable of great profanity and sternness, who has capability for great insight and kindness. Sam Rockwell plays dim-witted police officer Dixon, and brings much of the comedy to the film, but is stymied by the script changes that happen almost too quickly. The rest of the cast features Peter Dinklage, Kerry Condon, Abbie Cornish, Zeljko Ivanek, Sandy Martin, John Hawkes and Caleb Landry-Jones.
Martin McDonagh’s screenplay is the story of grief, how it manifests so strongly, and how a person grieving can often show no consideration for the people around them. It is also a revenge tale, and one of unexpected kindness. There is great strength and subtle observation throughout the film, however, this all manages to fall apart in the final act when McDonagh seems to be so desperately searching for a resolution that he forgets the world, and characters that he has created thus far. In fact, the final few moments of the film feel so alien from what has gone before that it is hard to resolve them into the same story.
As director, McDonagh has coaxed strong performances from his cast, and obviously has fun in populating his world with off beat and strange characters. The cast are all strong in their roles and, for the most part, their characters feel real and relatable, but it is in that tricky final act where characters suddenly change, that is hard to come to terms with. The film is well paced and often beautifully insightful, and it is enjoyable to go on the meandering journey with the characters, but it is in trying to find an ending that McDonagh’s pacing suddenly picks up speed and seems to be galloping toward a finish, without a resolution in sight.
In all, Martin McDonagh has created a real, believable and sometimes frightening world in ‘Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri’, but he seems to be having so much un with the characters that he forgets to wrap the story up in a satisfying way. The pacing is mostly strong and the cast are all wonderful, with special mentions to McDormand and Peter Dinklage in his small but impactful role, but there is a hole in the heart of ‘Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri’ that is hard to ignore.
RATING: 3.5/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    Martin McDonagh was driving through America a few years back and happened upon two billboards. They’re a fairly common sight across American highways, but these two caught his attention: they railed against the local police for not solving a heinous crime. That germ of an idea formed the basis for his third feature film as a writer/director, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. After the chaotic, unfocused Seven Psychopaths, it’s a welcome return to form and the edgy humour of In Bruges.

    Nothing much happens in the sleepy town of Ebbing, Missouri. Things are about to change though. Grieving mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) is going to take a stand. Tired of the police’s inactivity in investigating the murder of her daughter seven months ago, she rents out three can’t-miss-‘em billboards outside town stating ‘Raped while dying’, ‘And still no arrests?’, ‘How come, Chief Willoughby?’ The Chief (Woody Harrelson) doesn’t take too kindly to the attention, given that he has his own problems. One of whom is his erratic dim-bulb colleague Dixon (Sam Rockwell). Mildred wants Willoughby to focus his attention on solving the crime, even if it means escalation…

    McDonagh’s script is typically verbose, laced with terrific one-liners and acerbic put-downs. Much of that comes through Mildred herself – a driven woman who takes no prisoners and wants action, not another apologetic phone call. You can see her point – the police are mostly thick and useless in this (fictional) small town, where life literally ebbs away along with any potential clues. She certainly gets their attention along with the whole town’s, developing a certain notoriety in the process.

    McDonagh scores points for never showing his hand until the end and even then he quickly tucks it away, suggesting a possible solution – or maybe not. It’s a script that could go in any direction, depending on how Mildred feels about it. You can sense that in McDonagh’s dialogue – he’s being guided by the voice of his lead character. He surrounds her with equally well-written characters, all with a knowing sense of humour. There are some surprising character turns too, as if to pull the rug from under your feet and avoid clichés.

    There’s a cautious feeling about the dark humour here – is it safe to laugh? Apparently, yes. It’s a tricky balance to pull off in a story involving an unsolved crime, but it’s done with such style, ease and deadpan delivery by the excellent cast. McDormand is spot-on, while the ever-reliable Rockwell gives a possible career-best performance as a dopey cop who might actually be smart. McDonagh’s solid writing and direction is what drives the film though, making it an involving character piece that deftly balances poignancy and sharp humour. Highly recommended. ****