BRITISH/Irish director Martin McDonagh’s first feature film was the well-respected and hugely entertaining In Bruges (2008). It was followed by the disappointing Seven Psychopaths (2012). McDonagh’s third film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017) marks a terrific return to form, exploring universal themes of grief, despair, rage and revenge.
There are flawless performances from each of the three main characters – Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, whose 19-year-old daughter has been brutally raped and murdered seven months before. Despairing and craving justice for her, Mildred demands the attention of the local community by renting three huge billboards on which to comment on the local police force’s apparent lack of interest and progress in solving the crime. Popular police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and racist local cop Dixon (Sam Rockwell) are forced to respond, creating waves which spread throughout the neighbourhood, with much of the local community taking offence at the attack on highly-regarded Willoughby, while Dixon reacts in the only way he knows how – violently. Characters, even the minor ones,are fully drawn – Police Chief Willoughby has a loving and literate wife (Scottish actress Abbie Cornish, plucked from obscurity), who quotes Oscar Wilde and is a good mother to their two little girls. Racist and unreconstructed Dixon is from the wrong side of the tracks and his mother holds strong traditional Southern States views, no doubt contributing to Dixon’s disregard for civil liberties and his liking for ‘torturing peoples of color’ (neither is he averse to beating up white folks who have crossed him). Mildred’s determination to stir things up leads to difficulties for her friends and family, especially for her teenage son, still grieving for his lost sister.
Rage, controlled and uncontrolled, simmers and explodes throughout the movie, reminiscent of the sort of Westerns they don’t make any more. Yet unexpected alliances are formed and the prospect of redemption is at least glimpsed, if not wholeheartedly embraced. A parable for these worrying times of Trump, Three Billboards tackles the notion that violence (even if carried out for ‘righteous’ reasons) inevitably begets more violence. The film was well-received at both the Venice and Toronto film festivals and has since won Golden Globes for best motion picture (drama), best actress for Frances McDormand and best supporting actor for Sam Rockwell, as well as best screenplay for a motion picture.
It’s hotly-tipped for Oscar success, too, and rightly so.
Don’t miss it.