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If you’re familiar with Martin McDonagh’s previous work like “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths” you’ll probably have a good idea of the kind of dark humour and explosions of sporadic violence to expect in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”. At one stage, a supporting character tells Mildred Hayes (Academy Award winner for this film, Frances McDormand) that “anger only begets more anger” and for me, that was the central idea behind the film. Once the anger that has built up following a tragedy can be let go of, then things start to become clearer and life can go on.
But there is a lot of anger to get through first. Frustration has provoked Mildred to make use of three dilapidated billboards outside the small town of Ebbing. She uses the billboards to very publically ask the question directly to the town’s police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) as to why there has been no progress in the murder of her daughter the year prior. This in turn provokes angry responses from the townsfolk and in particular, Chief Willoughby and his second I command Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell, the other actor to win an Academy Award for his performance here). While Willoughby tends to be quite measured in dealing with Mildred, and you get the sense that while they are at loggerheads there’s a deeper understanding between the two, Dixon is a real loose unit who has also been accused of torturing prisoners who happen to be people of colour, as he himself so eloquently reminds us. That Dixon is racist is never in any doubt, which makes his journey as a character all the more compelling. The same can be said for Mildred as well. This isn’t the type of film where the mother of a murdered child is out to solve the case by herself; Mildred is relying on the police to do their jobs. At the same time she is trying to maintain a relationship with her son and get on with her life but without the closure that an arrest would bring, she simply can’t.
McDonagh, who is directing his own script, has crafted an incredible film that is filled with gorgeous imagery, excellent performances from every member of the cast no matter how small the role, and fantastic dialogue. While there is plenty of gallows humour to be found among the tragedy (and tragedies) that occur, it never feels out of place in the same way it sometimes does in other films. While jokes are made, it doesn’t distract from tough times that the characters are going through, as in real life. Frances McDormand’s Academy Award was well deserved, as she turns in a performance that shows the tough exterior of Mildred but also shows us times when the façade cracks before she reverts back to the seemingly unflappable woman the whole experience has made her out to be. Her scenes with Woody Harrelson are excellent for the reasons I mentioned above, but her scenes with the (always great) Sam Rockwell have an extra layer of intensity because the mutual respect between Mildred and Willoughby is nowhere to be found between Mildred and Dixon due to his past indiscretions and her abrasive attitude towards the local police.
While I should say that you shouldn’t go into this expecting a typical murder/mystery film, films of this quality don’t come around very often. It’s sad, crude, touching, violent, funny and unpredictable. It’s a rare type of film where everything clicks into place and you get the perfect storm of direction, script, music, and acting that makes you realise why you like movies so much in the first place
The clever words of Kevin Dillon @kevinwritestuff
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