Film Reviews

Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Picking up 4 Golden Globes awards including Best Drama and thus currently highly tipped in the Oscars race, dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a truly scintillating picture with immense power behind its narrative teeming with both heartbreak and resilience.

Set in Ebbing, a small rural US community, the film follows Meredith Hayes (forcefully portrayed by Frances McDormand), as a mother who rents out three local billboards to call attention to the failure of the town’s police department to even find a suspect for the death of her daughter who was brutally raped and killed seven months earlier. In sequence the advertisements read “RAPED WHILE DYING”, “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”, ending with “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”. Meredith’s billboard’s quickly causes strife among the community as many see it as a distasteful stab at the police departments chief, Willoughby, whose terminal cancer is an open-secret throughout Ebbing populace. From the start, Three Billboards is not your standard feel-good film.

But then again, there is an argument that America is not a feel-good place right now, so if it does in fact do something on Hollywood’s biggest night, then perhaps there’s some justice in that.

Three Billboards is the third film written and directed by Irish filmmaker Martin McDonagh. Whilst his latest movie features the same sharp, accomplished cinematography, atmospheric soundtrack and darkly incisive comic moments as his other well-received projects, In Bruge and Seven Psychopaths, the depth behind its characters make it without a doubt his most absorbing and compelling film so far.

“Meredith faces conflict on all sides”

As the story unfolds, animosity and backlash from the town’s residents over the billboards continues to mount, Meredith faces conflict on all sides; the police, the community at large, an abusive ex-husband, they are all there and yet she stands firm. Meredith is unrelenting, unwilling to have the abuse, rape and death of her daughter simply swept under the rug by a community reluctant to deal with it.

She lashes out a world devoid of morality, and acts in this way, whether inadvertent or not, as a sort of rumination on the events that have unfolded in Hollywood over the last few months. Her dogged defiance and determination is what drives the film, with a mix of well-aimed Molotov cocktails and the odd stabbing of a dentist, she acts as the perfect feminist embodiment of the defiant collective backlash that has permeated around the entertainment industry.

“[This] mak[es] her in my mind a near certainty for Best-Actress.”

McDormand’s performance is tenacious in every sense of the word, played with a perfect combination of steely grit yet maternal vulnerability that humanizes her one-woman-army of a character, making her in my mind a near certainty for Best-Actress.

She is joined by stellar efforts from the entire cast, particularly, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell in supporting roles. Played sympathetically by Harrelson, Chief Willoughby is a man caught between a deep desire to help Meredith by answering her need for justice and a lack of evidence or leads to do so.

“[The film is ] examining issues plaguing the current moment in American society.”

Alongside him is his fellow officer and Meredith’s chief opposing number for much of the film, Dixon. His simple-minded nature shelters more serious racist undertones in another example of McDonagh’s brilliant script examining issues plaguing the current moment in American society. Dixon is interpreted lively by indie darling Sam Rockwell, as a character quite against type in comparison to his usual quick witted, charismatic roles. Also working magic in a slightly smaller role is Peter Dinklage as a drunken (Tyrion never stops) used-car salesman with the hots for Meredith.

Three Billboards is a film that has that rare ability to present a host of characters whose interactions and perspectives can make you laugh in one instance before showcasing the utter fragility of life in the next. In many ways it bears the same stinging themes of tragedy and agony present in last year’s Manchester By The Sea, yet carries with it a unique simmering anger and sense of action in its narrative at time when it has never been more relevant.


Nils Berg

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