Review by David Baldwin for Mr. Will Wong
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is angry. Her daughter was murdered and seven months later, the local police department still have no leads. Frustrated, Mildred pays for the space on three billboards outside of town and puts-up a message to remind Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). And while it coaxes the police into reopening the investigation, it also sets Mildred up to go to war with nearly everyone in town.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a volatile Film that asks hard questions and stays deliberately ambiguous with its answers. It takes downright shocking turns and will turn- off many viewers. But Writer/Director Martin McDonagh has never been one to care about what the masses think. His Films In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths are vulgar, darkly hilarious, viciously violent and quietly insightful. All of these elements follow him into Three Billboards, along with their edgy, matter-of-fact tone. Scratch that – the tone becomes practically incendiary (both literally and figuratively) as this Film progresses and easily overshadows anything McDonagh has written in the past.
And that is exactly why Three Billboards will stick with and haunt you well after the credits end. McDonagh is just as angry as Mildred is, treating the Film as an indictment on society. The crime that sets the story into motion is never shown – we only see Mildred’s daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) in one scene that will leave you emotionally eviscerated. And McDonagh only ratchets-up the heartbreak, hilarity and anger from there, never straying from the ripple effect the billboards have on the town’s residents and the ensuing chaos Mildred causes. He makes bold filmmaking choices as both Writer and Director here, with the obvious intention for the viewer to be just as angry as he is.
McDonagh has always brought together incredible casts to deliver his biting, magnificently anti-PC dialogue, and Three Billboards is no exception. Harrelson, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage and Lucas Hedges all deliver some of the best work in their careers. Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Sandy Martin, Abbie Cornish and McDonagh-regular Zeljko Ivanek have even smaller roles in the Film, but all leave a lasting impression.
Of those supporting players however, Sam Rockwell is the one who does the most damage. He is one of Hollywood’s most underrated actors, and continues to prove his impeccable range as the dimwitted, racist and unlikeable Officer Dixon. But what is initially written as a backwoods Hick stereotype slowly transforms into some of the most beautifully moving and vividly emotional acting of the year. This is the performance of Rockwell’s career, and he owns every second of it. No matter what he is saying or doing on-screen (including a brilliant one-shot take that is simultaneously heinous and hilarious), you will not be able to look away.
But all of Three Billboards’ greatness would be completely wasted if not for McDormand. From the first frame all the way up to its bittersweet finale, she is a goddamn force of nature who cannot be stopped. Her Mildred takes no prisoners in her quest for justice, and even in her weakest moments, McDormand does not let-up – she only gets better. She becomes completely unpredictable at some points, and her acid tongued delivery of McDonagh’s twisted dialogue will make every year-end highlight reel. McDormand’s performance is honest and fearless, practically burning holes through the screen. It is a role that was tailor-made for the actress, and must be seen to be believed.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the best films of the year, and one of this fall’s absolute must-see films. McDonagh’s Writing and Directing are outstanding, the Supporting Cast is superb and Rockwell and McDormand are truly exceptional. We just have to wait and see if Oscar notices.
Fox Searchlight Pictures release THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
in select theatres starting Friday, November 17, 2017.
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