Dir. Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones, Kathryn Newton, Lucas Hedges
Reviewed by Matt Adcock (@Cleric20)
“You know, if you hadn’t stopped coming to church, you’d have a little more understanding of people’s feelings …”
Not much can prepare you for this brutally dark comic drama from Academy Award nominee Martin ‘In Bruges’ McDonagh. The harrowing story is set some months after the horrific rape and murder of a young woman called Angela Hayes (Kathryn Newton). The police have made no progress in finding a suspect so Angela’s mother Mildred (Academy Award winner – and surely potentially in line for another for her stunning performance here – Frances McDormand) commissions three billboard signs leading into her town with a controversial message calling out William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police.
What follows is a battle of wills between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement, with the townsfolk’s emotions running high. As anger, bigotry and violence come to the surface, the lives of everyone are impacted.
Joining Mildred on her heart-felt quest for justice is a wildly unpredictable ride, one moment you’ll be rocked by the gut churning raw grief and recriminations, the next marvelling at some wonderful laugh-out-loud dialogue. It’s a killer combo of superb acting and incredible cinematography that elevates Three Billboards to a classic status.
McDormand gives a master class in how loss and grief can embitter the human soul, this is an insight into the long uneasy road towards finding any sort of peace. The mix of dark and comedic tones is a tricky balancing act but director McDonagh nails it.
The entire cast are excellent but the stand-out supporting role is Sam Rockwell as Dixon, a flawed, racist cop whose volatile, childish behaviour is a danger to everyone around him. Rockwell takes his unlikable character on a tremendous arc of development, which will challenge you about how everyone should have a chance at redemption. Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, John Hawk and Caleb Landry Jones are also great though.
All the characters are flawed and the painful subject matter doesn’t make it easy watching, but it is rare that a film like this comes along and all the positive / awards buzz around Three Billboards is fully justified.
This is a film with a strong moral heart but church-going believers don’t come across in a very good light. There is a blistering scene where the local Minister tries to talk Mildred into taking the signs down and her response is something everyone who has ever been part of a church should listen to. Raising the question of culpability by ‘membership’ and just how much we actually care or hold each other accountable – which gives huge pause for thought.
Those who have seen Seven Psychopaths or In Bruges will know that there is very little that is ‘out of bounds’ where McDonagh’s cinematic output but watching these characters wrestle with the anger and consequences of their deep anguish is as emotionally draining as it is thought provoking.
Ultimately though the central message is that even deeply wounded people can find a reason to live, a purpose and to not only transcend themselves, but walk a path to redemption.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a masterpiece – a film that will scorch your soul and challenge you but also leave you thinking through how you approach those around you and just maybe make you a better person as a result.
5 out of 5 stars
Related Films: In Bruges, Nocturnal Animals