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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Jack Bottomley, Media Correspondent
In the early weeks of 2018 and at the height of awards season, I have found already a film that connected to my soul in Guillermo del Toro’s romantic fantasy masterpiece The Shape of Water. Now, I find myself deliberating about the impact of another film hotly tipped for Oscar gold, after a wave of success already, in the brilliant and powerful Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

From writer/director Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths, In Bruges), this incendiary blackly comic drama tells the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a woman seeking justice for her daughter’s rape and murder. Looking to keep her daughter’s case in the public eye, and in a very provocative manoeuvre, she hires three billboards along an old road nearby and has them imprinted with messages directly asking the local police and their respected leader Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), why no progress has been made in solving the case? It’s a bold move and one that quickly gains the ire of many parties as this rebellious action causes an array of events and escalations in the community.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a blistering look at rage and hatred and how they further lead to the anarchy of life, as the central investigation (an act of abhorrence) spirals into a defiant wild fire that torches the entire community and the central characters (both figuratively and literally). McDonagh’s film is incensed at the system and equally annoyed at the human condition of fighting hate with hate and as such Three Billboards feels timely and intriguing to decipher.

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Filled with swearing, violence and conflict, the film tackles complex human dramas and offers up an array of flawed individuals, each questioning your allegiances. It has drawn controversy for some of its depictions and debates but there is a guttural truth to proceedings, as McDonagh’s screenplay jabs the tensions of mankind and modern America (or, even, society as a whole). Whilst also making you laugh out loud and at times, even has you questioning whether you should be doing so?

However, there are also moments of quieter contemplation and anti-heroism to be found within, as the irredeemable seek redemption and by the end the anger subsides a little to reveal doubt and semi-optimism. There are as well, some emotionally powerful sequences that capture new perspectives on these characters and some tearful sections that question who these people really are/want to be and in turn who we are/what we would do.

As Mildred, Frances McDormand is an absolute tour de force; both flawed but at the same time a strong core to the film. She is tough as old boots, yet filled with a deluge of internal conflict, as she fights for justice and treads the path of vigilantism to pursue it but also makes some headstrong and questionable decisions on the way. McDormand’s monologues of institutional rebellion are jump in the air powerful one minute; darkly hilarious the next and her sobbing moments of hardship come along to further complicate the film – and lead’s - moral dimension. She is simply phenomenal and surely Oscar assured.

The supporting cast also excel and fit neatly into the films overall complex emotional structure. Sam Rockwell is knuckle bloodingly effective as unethical policeman Jason Dixon, a character at once scornful, broken and deeply layered and with a challenging part to play. While Woody Harrelson is fantastic (and affecting at points) as the nearest thing the film gets to a good guy lead in police chief William Willoughby. While Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Amanda Warren and Clarke Peters fill out supporting roles and each have their own chance to impact the flow of events in this wild story of fury, insurgence and resentment.

This is a film of whiplash effect, where characters make quick rageful choices and are forced to endure the quickly following consequences and as Carter Burwell’s excellent score backs all the brutality and wrath, you are left in awe (and sometimes shocking hilarity) of some of the twists and turns and how far they go.

I’ll be ruminating on this remarkable piece of work for some time as, speaking personally, it really hit home for me in some respects, with its lead character and depiction of a reprehensible crime going unpunished. Three Billboards is just a firestorm of a film with a moral minefield narrative, absorbing acting and a darkly comic profanely fiery (and funny) script. McDonagh offers no easy resolutions or answers and thus his film is aggressively and uncompromisingly human.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (15)
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage
Release Date: Out Now

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, 2nd March 2018, 11:50 AM