Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
Starring Frances McDorman, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, John Hawkes,
What the trailer makes look like a comedy is surprisingly very sad. From writer/director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) comes another ambitiously vulgar, sarcastically brilliant script that audience’s familiar with his work will admire. His screenplays are always the highlight of the film, due to their provocative language, and I don’t just mean curse words. One of the drawbacks here are racist and homophobic punch lines. Still, the characters are wildly colorful, and even more interesting than usual since McDonagh has a female in the lead. McDormand (Hail Caesar, Moonrise Kingdom) has played shades of this role before, it’s sort of her thing. Regardless of the familiarity she lands so many hilarious and touching moments that elevate Three Billboards. Nearly equal is Rockwell (Woman Walks Ahead, Mr. Right) who hasn’t had a role this good in years, and gets the biggest character arc.
Unhappy with the local sheriff’s investigation into the murder of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (McDormand) rents three large billboards just outside of town. She calls out nice guy Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Harrelson), because the buck must stop somewhere. Willoughby is dying with cancer, and while the town empathizes with Hayes loss, they side with the police department against her radical billboards that detail how her daughter died. “Raped while dying”. Officer Jason Dixon (Rockwell), a backward racist, takes the most offense to Hayes billboards, putting pressure on her friends in an attempt to end the controversy. Hayes figures the more her daughters case stays in the news, the better chance the man who raped, murdered and burnt her alive will be found.
Both McDormand and Rockwell might receive awards attention from the film, but the original screenplay category just got a new shortlist contender.
While the story is full of surprising character developments and showing that even bad people have good sides, the biggest shock is just how dark the subject matter is willing to go. It’s rare to see such a sarcastic comedy explore pain, loss and forgiveness the way it’s presented here. The characters, all of them, even down to minor roles like Cornish who plays the Sheriff’s wife, are unpredictable. At no point in Three Billboards, do you know how it will end. McDonagh keeps the audience engaged for a solid two hours in a script that’s as fresh as anything we’ve seen this year. Sometimes the vulgarity pushes it’s limits and seems out of place in more intimate moments. But vulgarity has become routine for sarcasm these days and it’s played to full effect, as seen in the red band trailer.
Both McDormand and Rockwell might receive awards attention from the film, but the original screenplay category just got a new shortlist contender. One of the most exquisitely written scenes is where Mildred explains “culpability” to the local priest who visits her home. He too wants to impress the removal of the billboards. Three Billboards might not have the levity of a Coen Brothers script, but the presentation is certainly in that vein. McDormand owns this film with her grizzly nature and soft inside and if this isn’t a best ensemble nomination, I don’t know what is.
Equal part sarcastic humor and painful subject matter.