Directed by Martin McDonagh
Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
There is something infinitely pleasing and liberating about well written revenge cinema. It is utterly delicious when they feature a strong, empowering woman as the avenger. But when it is dealt with aplomb, love, more than a touch of dark humour and laugh out loud moments aplenty, it’s a true smorgasbord for the soul. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a bold masterpiece, and a must see movie to begin 2018 when it’s released on the world on January 1. It is the best possible antidote for your inevitable New Year’s Day hangover. Martin McDonagh has outdone himself with his third feature as both writer and director. Such a pity we have to wait so long between works, as thus far they are collectively pretty much faultless.
Mildred (Frances McDormand) is furious and grieving the loss of her daughter after she was brutally raped and murdered in a crime that remains unsolved seven months later. Her frustration in the lack of headway by local police, headed by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), leads her to rent three billboards outside town with what little money she can scrape together. On those billboards, in stark red and black, she expresses her disgust and rage with the simple words, “Raped while dying; And still no arrests; How come, Chief Willoughby?”
Mildred is a woman on a mission. This is not your usual vengeful, kickass woman fare, as with favourites such as Kill Bill, Hard Candy or The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo, as glorious as all of these films are. Mildred is one tough mother with an axe to grind, and rightfully so, as she seeks closure and punishment for her daughter’s killer(s) in the face of unimaginable sorrow. Mildred is fierce but not faultless, and irrefutably human with weaknesses which are slowly revealed in one of McDormand’s most moving and brilliant roles to date.
Therein lies the magic of Three Billboards – the magnificently well rounded, heartfelt characters full of human complexities, are slowly revealed like an archaeologist dusting bones bare. Where Chief Willoughby could be painted as the villain, he is slowly stripped away to a man labouring under his own suffering. While Mildred could be the ultimate baseball bat wielding heroine, she is exposed as one with faults, as with all of us. Even the repulsive bad guy, Sam Rockwell’s Jason is slowly stripped away from a small man with a gun and ultra-violent tendencies to one whose inclinations are explained by his deeply problematic, awful mother, in one of the great character arcs portrayed on screen. Rockwell’s performance is as tight as a Mildred’s clenched fists.
Balancing a fine line between comedy and tragedy, Three Billboards is full to the brim with pathos and an exploration of balancing the risks of anger with the ultimate cure in embracing empathy for others. It subtly brings to the fore the importance of listening and truly hearing others. Three Billboards is a heady combination of brilliantly black comedy, jarring violence and searing social commentary. It’s simply phenomenal.