LFF 2017: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Review

Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones

The Overview
In this darkly comic drama, a mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder, when they fail to catch the culprit. (Source: IMDb)

The Verdict
More so than ever, a film about protest, and standing up for what you believe in, no matter what the cost or implication, seems incredibly relevant. Whilst director Martin McDonagh’s previous offering, Seven Psychopaths garnered mixed reviews, his previous directorial effort In Bruges turned out to be a wonderfully underrated, jet-black comedy gem.

Knowing to expect dark humour in abundance is wise when going into Three Billboards, as it establishes its tone right from the off. Beginning with a wonderful back and forth exchange between Frances McDormand’s Mildred Hayes, and billboard vendor Red (Caleb Landry Jones), it immediately lays the foundations for its sparkling, darkly comedic script. Remaining consistent in tone throughout, and with the aforementioned killer script from McDonagh, Three Billboards is nothing short of total genius and an unexpectedly moving experience, despite the laughs.

With a powerhouse performance from Frances McDormand at its core, Three Billboards is a blistering, unflinching, frustrating, and powerful piece of cinema which expertly highlights its messages in a far subtler way than the three giant red billboards of the title! It never shies from the messages of police brutality, inconsistency and ineptitude, and its shocking miscarriage of justice will shake you to the core.

Whilst managing to keep the humour consistent throughout, it is also genuinely shocking and abrasive in places. There is one incredible scene involving Sam Rockwell’s impossibly stupid Officer Dixon going on a rampage which is so utterly brutal. Following his actions and almost appearing to be shot in one take, we see him make an unprovoked attack on the billboard seller and perhaps most shockingly, his female assistant. If you don’t audibly gasp at this moment, it is possible you are a robot. The shocking displays of violence, both justified and unjustified leave a tangible and lasting impression, and ensure you’ll be thinking about this film long after the credits roll.

It is worth mentioning Frances McDormand again, because no amount of hyperbole can do her performance justice. Arguably the performance of her career, she seems to be a total shoe-in for the Oscar nomination, as her work here is truly, truly brilliant. There are times when the emotion seeps through her otherwise hardened facade, and at these times, she is simply extraordinary. Switching effortlessly from emotionless badass, to grieving mother, her performance is totally captivating. The supporting cast are also excellent, with Woody Harrelson continuing to be dependable and with some of the biggest laughs in the film, even after he is absent. Sam Rockwell is on the one hand totally detestable, and toeing the line between stupidity and brainless brutality, and on the other so vulnerable and actually quite pitiful. He’s a hugely underrated actor, and this film really showcases what he is capable of.  

The end will undoubtedly frustrate many, but it has a point of ending this way. Life often goes unanswered, life isn’t fair, and it hardly ever wraps up neatly into a 115 minute runtime. The film lets this idea and particularly the shocking injustice sit uncomfortably with you right to the bitter end, and this makes it incredibly powerful.

To sum up Three Billboards in one word, it would simply be, “wow”. One minute you’ll be laughing so hard you cry, and in all the other moments you’ll be crying real, genuine tears of emotion and despair. Three Billboards is moving, mesmerising, achingly funny and highly original, it could not be recommended enough.

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