And so begins the inevitable January Oscar catch-up period for the rest of the populace that doesn’t get piles of screeners. First up comes a movie about rape, torture, suicide and police corruption – with jokes! Only from Martin McDonagh.
Three Billboards outisde Ebbing, Missouri (2017) is a black comedy drama written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths). It stars Frances McDormand as Mildred, a mother who rents out three billboards to call out the police force and specifically captain Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for being unable to solve her daughter’s rape and murder.
To start off, I’m a huge fan of Martin McDonagh’s work – In Bruges is one of my favourite films (and I’ll also add I was lucky enough to see it in Bruges) and even Seven Psychopaths I thought had plenty to love, so going into Three Billboards I had a certain level of excitement to see what the talented man would do next. And while Three Billboards is the steadiest and most grounded of his three films, his signature writing, wit and black humour are on centre stage and make for a film that more than lives up to his name.
Starting off with the screenplay, and while Three Billboards doesn’t match the energy of his previous work, the spectacular writing and dialogue remains. Witty, sly, detailed and thoughtful, McDonagh brings his signature brand of black black comedy to a story that delves into some fascinating shades of grey. His screenplay may skew a little more into serious drama than comedy this time around, but that doesn’t stop there being some real twisted laughs to be had here. Clear-cut morality is not something to be found here, leaving the viewer with a poignant, lasting impression that its ultimately up to them how to interpret the events that just transpired on screen.
This is all lifted above and beyond the script by a killer cast. Frances McDormand is the best I’ve seen her since Fargo, giving a powerful unforgiving performance as a mother who has turned to furious anger in order to avenge her daughter. At this moment she’s a shoe-in for Best Actress personally, even if that’s not set in stone. Woody Harrelson is almost as impressive as Police Chief Willoughby, and surprisingly ends up being the most emotionally charged character in the film. The way he plays off McDormand commands a great deal of respect and he presents the Chief as a mostly kind-hearted if misguided figure. Sam Rockwell also delivers a stellar performance as corrupt cop Dixon. While the arc McDonagh takes him on doesn’t work incredibly well, he never falters in portraying Dixon as much more than the usual asshole cop often seen in crime dramas. Other performances by Peter Dinklage and Lucas Hedges are also worth mentioning as excellent, even if Peter Dinklage’s character feels a little bit shoe-horned in.
If In Bruges introduced me to McDonagh, Three Billboards firmly established him as a director to pay serious attention to going forward. Aside from a few spoilerific missteps, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri delivers the goods in almost every other way possible – a great script, spectacular performances and equally thoughtful and dark subject matter, this film’s impact is likely to be much more than a few pictures on the side of the road.
General Audiences: Highly Recommended
Film Buffs: Highly Recommended
Cinema-sobbers: Highly Recommended