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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - Review

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Review by Rob Carnevale

IndieLondon Rating: 5 out of 5

IF THE name of Martin McDonagh’s latest seems fairly non-descript, don’t be deceived. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the films of the year.

A pitch black comedy-drama, the story revolves around a mother as she attempts to get the justice that has so far eluded her dead daughter. But it’s far from straight-forward. Actions have consequences, both emotional and physical, with each one sending events spiralling beyond control.

And such is the power of McDonagh’s screenplay, that you’ll feel as though you’ve been taken on a journey that’s as profound and moving as it is – at times – shocking and thought-provoking.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a mother still angry and grieving at the rape and murder of her daughter and the apparent inaction of the local sheriff, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), to make any arrests.

She subsequently takes out advertising on the three billboards of the film’s title in a bid to shame the police into action.

But while Sheriff Willoughby remains sympathetic to her plight, he has his own battles to fight, leaving his deputy, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a Mother’s boy with violent tendencies, to try to deter Mildred.

To say too much more would be doing a grave disservice to McDonagh’s screenplay, which seldom allows things to play out in the way audiences might expect.

Instead, it’s far better to sit back and enjoy the various nuances of this complex tragedy, which examines notions of guilt, mortality, grief and revenge in exemplary fashion.

Just as he did with both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, McDonagh manages to find comedy in the darkest places but here exhibits a greater maturity befitting the generally more sombre tone of the film, which in turn affords it greater bite.

This is a story in which death is as much a character as those on-screen for the way in which it informs choices and character. It is a painful companion to them.

It almost goes without saying that the performances are stunning, especially from the central trio.

McDormand is a force of nature – a formidable mother whose desire for revenge is as much fuelled by her own ‘guilt’ as it is her anger over the lack of arrests. She’s not afraid to be disliked. But this only makes her more human, and her moments of compassion more poignant.

Harrelson, on the other hand, is a nice foil for her: a man who has his own relationship with death, who maintains a dignity and sensitivity that is wholly endearing. His scenes with McDormand are utterly engrossing.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Rockwell, meanwhile, is the apparent joker in the pack: a hot-headed ‘fool’ who generates the biggest early laughs, but whose journey through the film is as unexpected as it is sometimes remarkably poignant. It’s a scintillating performance from the actor that just keeps getting better the longer it lasts.

McDonagh, for his part, strikes a near-perfect balance between the drama and the humour, tossing in the odd moment of action to keep things lively, but relying more on character and storytelling prowess to keep you gripped. It’s testament to his skill as a writer that he is able to wrong-foot viewers at several points, while also delivering a set of characters that are capable of wrestling with your emotions and pulling you in different directions.

In that regard, Three Billboards is a bold, fearless piece of work, which treats its audience as adults, and which isn’t even afraid to drop in an ending that may divide opinion. For my money, it’s a beautifully considered climax that is sure to further the provocative nature of the film as a whole, while furthering many of the debates inherent throughout.

With a slew of awards in its pocket already, don’t be surprised to find this unmissable film picking up many more accolades en route to the Oscars. It’s deserving of every one of them.

Certificate: 15
Running time: 1hr 55mins
UK Release Date: January 12, 2018

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