Thursday 7 December 2017

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh serves up one of the best films of 2017 with his latest tragic and tragically funny tale.

Written and directed by Irish filmmaker Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri tells the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a grieving mother who tasks local law enforcement with finding her daughter's killer by renting three billboards on the edge of town and plastering them with challenge to the local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).

However, her commanding statement isn't popular with the townsfolk of Ebbing, and Mildred soon finds herself under siege from all sides, with a hot-headed deputy by the name of Dixon (Sam Rockwell) taking particular dislike to the billboards and her abusive ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) re-entering the frame.

Seething with rage and overflowing with sorrow, McDormand's towering performance as Mildred is up there with the best of the year. Strong and determined, McDormand takes no prisoners as she strides around town kicking ass and taking names. However, under her hardened facade, Mildred is a vulnerable and fragile mother grieving for her daughter. She sells this duality with ease and we are immediately aligned with her cause, even if her methods are often a little extreme.

Harrelson is also great as Chief Willoughby. His character succeeds because of his perceived competence at his job. Try as he might, Willoughby is out of options when it comes to solving the case of Mildred's daughter. He has done everything he can and the case has gone cold. He knows it and she knows it, but that doesn't stop Mildred from dishing it out and Willoughby from taking it on the chin, even when he has his own concerns to deal with behind closed doors. It's a complex and layered relationship that showcases the depth and emotional underscoring McDonagh's damn near perfect screenplay.

Completing this trifecta is Rockwell; afforded perhaps the best arc of the film, Rockwell pours everything into his performance as the racist, bigoted, violent, dim-witted and knuckle-dragging Dixon. What starts out as a fairly one-note character transforms into something infinitely greater, and Rockwell carries that change with aplomb. 

McDonagh's screenplay, as mentioned earlier, is simply wonderful. Its greatest strength lies in its unpredictability. You may think you know where this film is going, but you'd be wrong. The writing traverses black comedy, stirring drama and compelling crime thriller – what more could you want? Also, McDonagh sticks the landing with a brilliant ending. 

When all is said and done, I can't really fault Three Billboards on anything. I haven't even touched on the cinematography, the score or the supporting cast, which includes the likes of Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Samara Weaving, Lucas Hedges and Caleb Landry Jones.

The Verdict: 9/10

A deft mixture of drama and comedy, Martin McDonagh's latest is a simmering pot of laughs, tears and poignant moments. A trifecta of terrific performances complement a sharp screenplay and gorgeous visuals. One of the most cathartic and compelling films I've seen in a long time.

Advance screenings of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri are taking place throughout December before it opens wider across Australia on New Year's Day.



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