I’d be rather surprised if you hadn’t heard about Martin McDonagh’s film Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri and even more so after it won five BAFTAs, one of which involved Best Film, plus it picked up two Oscars, that included Best Actress in a Leading Role for the truly outstanding Frances McDormand.
As a brief background to the film, Three Billboards focuses around the life of Mildred Hayes (McDormand) and her one-woman mission to seek justice for the lack of an arrest for her daughter’s death. Driven by a lack of Police action, she purchases three disused billboards, that locals regularly pass by, and places the words in black, on a red background, ‘Raped while Dying – And still no arrests? – How come, Chief Willoughby?’ on them. It’s an understandably controversial attempt to get their attention but boy, it works.
While many of Three Billboards characters aren’t the classic ‘likeable’ souls you encounter, you’ll find yourself siding with Mildred almost immediately. She knows she’s causing trouble and understands it’s bringing more anguish to those around her, but she’s far beyond being considerate about anyone in her quest for justice. McDormand is stunning in the role, bringing all her experience from the darkness and light within her work (and with the Coen brothers) and also undeniably convincing as a woman who’s heartbroken and looking for closure.
McDormand’s Mildred holds a dark, comic tone and while this could be desperately sad, you also feel the strength that resides inside her, beyond the sadness, and it shows with every decision she makes from the moment she rents out the billboards, to her breaking down, to telling Chief Willoughby that her work ‘Wouldn’t be affective after you croaked’. While she is cruel and direct, Mildred’s been pushed beyond the point of holding back and you can’t blame her after you learn what occurred, and what she’s been through.
What makes Three Billboards particularly special is that it’s not like any other film of this level. We may have a host of characters looking after themselves, but it’s also deeply funny and explicably human in this small, American town. Ebbing really could be anywhere in the world, and you’d see this in everyone’s roles. Chief Willoughby, played by the excellent Woody Harrelson, is fighting illness himself and plays an important part despite this but it’s Sam Rockwell’s racist, dumb cop Dixon who’s about to face the biggest character arc because he’s a lost soul, in a job he doesn’t really have respect for and living with his majorly troublesome Momma. Dixon will find a redemptive path, but not like you expect and – in truth – nothing in Three Billboards is what you assume.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri has a terrific ensemble cast and it offers us endlessly reflective and direct dialogue, with a narrative that trawls the depths of grief on many levels but also the strength of character within everyone. It’s a brutal, emotional, poignant and funny journey and captured with such a genuine, unpretentious tone that you’ll want to come back time and again.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is out on Blu-ray and DVD on 21st May, 2018 – Buy it now https://amzn.to/2IAYkvS