I was lucky enough to catch an early preview of ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ this year and went in without seeing a trailer or hearing much about the plot. Still, my hopes were high as, despite only having 2 feature length films under his belt, Martin McDonagh is one of Britain’s finest exports. ‘In Bruges’ is the gold standard of the term ‘black comedy’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’ let the insanely talented cast all play to their strengths. With ‘Three Billboards…’, McDonagh has made one of the most dramatic film you’ll see this year, yet has somehow thrown in some of the funniest moments you’ll see too.
The story follows Mildred (Frances McDormand) in her quest to get justice for her murdered daughter. Her method of renting out 3 billboards may seem peculiar at first, but with each passing revelation about the months that have passed, you understand how her frustration has led to this. Her anger is aimed at the entire police department, mainly on Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) who you feel is going to be the main antagonist, but is actually one of the nicest characters in the entire film. It makes every scene between the two so conflicting as you are solely on Mildred’s side, yet you sympathise with Willoughby on almost every level. The real antagonist is Sam Rockwell’s Dixon. A racist, dirty cop who you really despise. Yet, like Willoughby, his character defies character expectations and tropes and goes on one the most interesting arcs I’ve seen for a long time.
…the film belongs to Frances McDormand. Easily her best performance ever, topping ‘Fargo’.
Like ‘Seven Psychopaths’, you really get the sense every character was written with their actor in mind. Woody Harrelson is magnificent, Sam Rockwell gives a career-defining performance and Samara Weaving deserves a shout out for being a comedic revelation in every scene she turns up in. You could honestly heap praise onto every actor, but the film belongs to Frances McDormand. Easily her best performance ever, topping ‘Fargo’. She embodies the roles of a grieving mother without pulling on any heartstrings to manipulate the audience into feeling weepy. It’s the opposite in fact, you admire her courage and attitude to getting things done her way. Then when she does get a more tender, emotional scene, you really believe every word that comes out of her mouth. She also rocks a jumpsuit and bandanna better than anyone, ever. Each character plays like a polar opposite of what your first impressions of them are, right up until the final third. McDonagh always writes his characters as complex and bizarre as he can, while keeping them grounded and believable, something not many other screenwriters could pull off effectively at all.
There may be lots of jokes, but don’t let that fool you, some scenes are so uncomfortable that it splits the audience.
Whilst ‘In Bruges’ and ‘Seven Psychopaths’ were much more comedic in tone, ‘Three Billboards…’ is a drama through and through. There may be lots of jokes, but don’t let that fool you, some scenes are so uncomfortable that it splits the audience. Whilst some were roaring with laughter, others sat there touched by the action of a character. Then there are the moments that are disguised under the pretence of a light-hearted moment before the rug is completely pulled out from underneath you. One moment in particular had me laughing out loud before stunning me into silence within a matter of seconds. In a movie full of memorable character, unforgettable moments and truly huge revelations, to have a pretty low-key scene truly stand out as this one did is remarkable.
‘Three Billboards…’ is one of the strongest original screenplays of recent memory. It shocks you, causes you to laugh, often within a matter of seconds, and makes you believe in every character, but never in a cheap way. Add in the entire cast bringing their A-game, some beautiful cinematography (Ben Davis), all accompanied by a great score (Carter Burwell) and a remarkable selection of songs, and you get one of the finest films of the year.