Martin McDonagh’s latest laconic, multilayered wrong-footer pits McDormand’s storming mourner against two local cops, Woody Harrelson’s omnipotently beloved sheriff and Sam Rockwell’s richly monstrous officer in waiting. Sight and Sound
Tensions in the Mid-West
By Roger Childs
The three billboards are outside Ebbing, Missouri and they have been put up by Mildred Hayes. The messages are about the lack of action by local police into the rape and death of her daughter.
Mildred is part of a highly dysfunctional family: her husband has left her for a 19 year old; her teenage son has issues, and she has plenty of guilt about the night her daughter stormed out on foot.
Downtown at the police department there are also plenty of issues and Ebbing citizens are divided over Mildred’s actions.
This is a film with plenty of strong language and violence, and is not for the faint-hearted.
However, it grabs your attention from the start and doesn’t let go: 4.5 stars.
McDormand in top form
She hit the screens as the pregnant police chief in the Coen Brother brilliant movie in the snow: Fargo. Frances McDormand is a consummate actor and very much at home in small town America; don’t be surprised if she wins Best Female Actor at his year’s Oscars.
As Mildred Hayes, she plays a highly flawed character and is brilliant in portraying the full range of emotions from anger and criminal intent to love and empathy.
Everyone else in the large cast is utterly convincing, headed by Woody Harrelson as police chief Willoughby, who is dying of pancreatic cancer, and Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon, a typical small town bigot on a short fuse.
Rockwell is a revelation and his transformation from bully boy to sympathetic citizen is one of the movie’s many highlights.
There are plenty of other fascinating characters including a dwarf who becomes Mildred’s partner in crime, a very naive teenager who has moved in with her ex and Dixon’s elderly Mum who has a pet tortoise!
Plenty of atmosphere and action
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri starts with Mildred in her station wagon, spotting the dilapidated billboards with the fading remains of yesterday’s messages.
We return many times to these billboards as the story unfolds, and their messages constantly remind us of her campaign.
American films often get a bad name for foul language and there is plenty of profanity in Billboards. However, it is the familiar vernacular for small town police, working class families and teenagers, and is never gratuitous in Martin McDonagh’s compelling movie.
It also provides the basis for some of the funnier moments. In one heated exchange, Mildred’s son calls her an old c… and she replies I’m not old.
Definitely worth getting to
This film hits the spot in bringing out the prejudices, bigotry, tensions, community spirit and friendships in small town USA.
It is perhaps a little on the long side and could have done with more editing, but you never get bored!
The effectiveness of the ending is something viewers will disagree on, but this is definitely a film that will get you talking.
There is plenty of action, drama, tension, surprise, humour and emotion.
See it, if you haven’t already!