“Sometimes it’s through having a total disregard for political correctness, and indeed not overly concerning oneself with the possibility of causing offence, that the most memorable cinema is created” – Wayward Wolf.
Sometimes it’s through having a total disregard for political correctness, and indeed not overly concerning oneself with the possibility of causing offence, that the most memorable cinema is created.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri (Three Billboards from hereon in), is the work of writer and director Martin McDonagh, and is very much a case in point.
Never one to shy away from the controversial, McDonagh’s past work includes the likes of In Bruges and Seven Psycopaths. These two films alone should provide more than a hint of what to expect from this, McDonagh’s latest dark, warts-and-all tale.
Frances McDormand portrays Mildred, a woman consumed with bitterness, living with a prevailing sense of injustice, and understandably so. Her daughter had some time previously been raped, brutally murdered and her body burned, somewhere on the outskirts of town. In Mildred’s eyes the police have made little or no attempt since the incident to bring the perpetrator to justice – whoever that may be.
Driven by her ongoing frustrations, Mildred takes it upon herself to rent three disused billboards on a small stretch of road just outside of town. Emblazoned upon them is a series of hard-hitting provocative messages designed to induce some form of reaction from much respected local Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), a man that Mildred, rightly or wrongly, perceives to have neglected his duties.
But this is small town America, and Mildred is fully aware that this is going to open one big can of worms. Not only do her actions agitate the local police force, but unwittingly she has targeted her frustrations at a dying man. It’s water off a duck’s back for thick skinned terminal Cancer patient, Willoughby, but the same cannot be said of his colleagues and the majority of the townsfolk who have been suitably irked by Mildred’s actions. There is a collective opinion that she has been overly callous towards a man that just so happens to be held in rather high esteem ’round them there parts’, and is considered to be the very glue that holds the Ebbing community together.
And so begins something of a war of attrition between Mildred, Willoughby and pretty much the entire town in which she lives.
Being made aware of Willoughby’s state of health you’d think would then be sufficient grounds for Mildred to reconsider her actions and back down gracefully, but it only serves to strengthen her resolve. If nothing else, she is one hell of a stubborn lady.
McDonaugh’s film excels on so many levels, most notably though through the richness and depth of its wonderful characterisation.
McDormand is full of no-nonsense bluster and attitude portraying the film’s splendidly cynical anti-hero, unafraid to give ‘both barrels’ to officers of the law and Catholic priests alike.
Sam Rockwell, whilst cast somewhat to type, is superb in his nuanced portrayal of Dixon, a work-shy, anger-filled bigoted small-town Police Officer, exhibiting all of the psychological traits one would surely associate with a forty-something still living at home with his red-neck mother. Yet despite all of this, Dixon’s life will come to be forever altered when he walks, quite literally, through the fire, on the way to his own Damascene conversion.
And then there’s Woody Harrelson. His portrayal of Willoughby is both weighty and full of charm. This is a man who not only rises to McDormand’s challenge, but more importantly, seems to enjoy the ensuing game that it brings.
The interplay between these and indeed all of the cast members is detailed and convincing, thanks to both the plethora of talent on show and the sheer quality of McDonagh’s writing. His multi-layered screenplay is gritty, witty, profoundly emotional, suitably inappropriate and thoroughly believable, with razor sharp dialogue to boot.
And it goes without saying that be it through deeply awkward scenarios or foul-mouthed rants, the blackest of humour abounds throughout in the director’s trademark style.
Three Billboards is a beautifully judged piece that takes time to consider emotional pain, the idea of retribution, anger, selflessness, sadness and to some extent at least, redemption. It’s also a film concerned very much with the here and now, resisting the temptation to gratuitously portray and dwell upon the heinous crimes of the past. Instead it brilliantly weaves the present day lives, needs, fears and aspirations of an entire community together into one engaging, complex whole.
Martin McDonagh has created a film here in which every act is as important as the last and indeed the next. Nothing here is peripheral. Everything is integral.
Wonderfully provocative, this is an instant classic.