(Featured image credit: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI: © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation All Rights Reserved)
I first saw the trailer for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri during a screening of The Disaster Artist (which I recommend). The trailer was like nothing I’d ever seen before – it was hilarious, thrilling and extremely quotable from just a few minutes of footage. I became intrigued by the concept of a war between a woman, Mildred (played by Francis McDormand) and the local police department.
To refresh your memory: Mildred’s daughter was raped and murdered eight months prior to when the film is set, the local police department have since failed to make any arrests regarding the event. Mildred decides to hire out three billboards which have not been in-use since the 1980s to raise awareness of her daughter’s case, upsetting the police department and causing controversy in the town of Ebbing. This is one of the rare times where the film’s title alone is as fascinating as the plot itself.
The humour in the trailer led me to believe that Three Billboards was going to be a dark comedy in the same way that McDonagh’s previous films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths were, and although there are many laughs to be had this film is so much more than that. Most of the humour takes place in the first half of the film, in the form of satirising how corrupt American police can be, Mildred’s outrageous acts of violence, and hilariously written comebacks by the son, played by Lucas Hedges. Almost every character made me both laugh and cry, their flaws making it very genuine and human.
Another element that made Three Billboards so brilliant was its unpredictability. Usually in dramas or thrillers, one can be quite comfortable with the narrative and where the plot is going, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. But Three Billboards is full of shocking twists and turns that I don’t recall ever having experienced in the cinema before. In an age where superhero and franchise blockbusters are by far the most popular genre (in terms of box office success) it is rare that a modern filmmaker will push the audience’s expectations to the limit in the way that McDonagh has with Three Billboards.
In contrast to the humour, this film is also heart-breaking at times. Many dark themes are explored in Three Billboards and large sequences of the film can be uncomfortable to watch. But that is the beauty of this film – that specific scenes can be so unsettling or powerful that they stay with you for much longer than the duration of the film. McDonagh does a fantastic job of creating a fictional town of very unlikable characters, who use foul and bigoted language, for the story to take place. In this setting, Mildred can be seen at times (despite her outrageous acts) as the only sane person.
Francis McDormand’s character, Mildred, is incredibly well acted and despite her character being obnoxious at a first glance, as the story progresses one learns to empathise and understand her motives. I think this not only one of the best performances by an actress I have ever seen, but also one of the best written parts for a woman in any film. I think Mildred possess strong traits and is completely fearless, but her complexity is shown when she breaks down recalling her final words to her daughter Angela.
Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell were also excellent in their roles. Harrelson has been on good form recently with roles in The Edge of Seventeen and War For The Planet of the Apes, and with upcoming roles in Solo: A Star Wars Story and Venom, this could be a promising year for him. As for Rockwell, his character Dixon is surprisingly developed and has the most interesting character arc in the film. I was a bit curious as to why he won the Best Supporting Actor award at the Golden Globes but now I can see why he deserved the award. The cast has incredible chemistry and it is not often we have the privilege of seeing so many talented actors in one film, all playing well-suited roles.
Despite some being dissatisfied by the ending, the more I think about it the more I believe it was the right ending for the story. After seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri I have been unable to stop thinking about the memorable characters and hysterical dialogue. This is a film that is so beautifully shot and scored that my jaw literally dropped at least twice, noticing the same sort of visceral reactions I experienced with Blade Runner 2049 where I genuinely could not believe what I was seeing on screen. I would completely recommend seeing Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri in cinemas whilst you have the chance to see what all the Oscar fuss is about. This is a film that will stay with me forever.