Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is yet another brutally violent, blackly comic piece from Martin McDonagh after the quite brilliant In Bruges and wonderfully out-of-control Seven Psychopaths.

This time it’s held together by Frances McDormand, instead of his regular star Colin Farrell, in a departure from the two rather blokey previous pics. In a role written with her in mind, McDormand offers one of the best performances in any US movie of the last few years surpassing her rather more fairy-tale-ish turn in the Coen brothers’ Fargo.

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is a divorced mother living in the fictional town of Ebbing and struggling to deal with the rape and murder of her daughter Angela seven months beforehand, and her grief is rapidly turning to anger. She blames the local, somewhat redneck police force for neglecting the unsolved case. When she spies some rundown billboards just out of town she pays advertising type Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) to rent them, posting messages damning the cops and shaming Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

The repercussions are swift and far-reaching, especially as Willoughby has, in fact, genuinely worked hard to crack the case. Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a dim, hot-headed Mama’s boy, takes serious offence and starts a personal war with Mildred. Bad idea.

But there’s so much more going on here: Mildred’s depressed son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) understandably feels second-best to the hardly saintly Angela; her frightening ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) looms; and neighbour James (Peter Dinklage withstanding some nasty jokes) has a bit of a crush on her. Many more characters fill out the background (including Aussies Abbie Cornish as Mrs. Willoughby and Samara Weaving as Charlie’s dopey young girlfriend), yet this is really all about Mildred, although McDormand doesn’t ham it up for the spotlight or grab attention away from this small army of luminous co-stars.

It’s a portrayal of great power yet moving stillness, and heartfelt humour combined with a ferocious will, as Mildred will not give up and will not stop. And, in reality, would probably drive you crazy too.

Rated MA. Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri is in select cinemas now, and will see wide release from January 1, 2018.

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