Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

3bill3Thank goodness for films that live up to their hype. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is pretty extraordinary- a fascinating comedy/drama mash-up that is more of a character piece then the procedural crime drama  I had expected. The film appears to be one thing and turn out to be something else entirely, something of a genius sleight of hand on director Martin McDonagh’s part. Its a welcome surprise and just one facet of a powerful and affecting film that is one of the best I’ve seen this year.

Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is a grieving mother whose teenage daughter was raped and murdered several months ago, the police investigation of which has been ineffectual and hit a dead end. Hayes turns her frustrations and anger upon her local police department in an effort to get it to put some fresh effort into the case, renting three abandoned billboards to put some messages in order to embarrass sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) into action. Its a play of misdirection- Willoughby isn’t the villain of the piece we might expect- he’s an honest and good officer with a poor department under him, particularly his racist and homophobic monster deputy, Dixon (Sam Rockwell), and the case really is a dead-end waiting for some stroke of luck that may never happen.

Hayes rages nevertheless, at odds with her townsfolk who rally to Willoughby’s side, partly because Willoughby is dying of cancer. Dixon lumbers around abusing his position of authority and several people are caught up in the wake of the conflict between Hayes and the police. In some ways it feels like a modern-day Western, Hayes a vigilante raging for justice and Dixon representing ignorance and a failed system of authority. With its biting one-liners and wry observations it  also feels very much like an episode of Fargo, and the film that the series is based on, which is doubly curious as McDormand starred in that Cohen brothers classic .

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE OF EBBING, MISSOURIThe film is that oddest of things- a comedy of tragedy, pain and desolation. Wonderfully, the film is less about that murder and the failed investigation and more about the characters caught up in Hayes loss and anger. It goes in unexpected directions and ends in a place that feels both right but also challenging and uncertain. I’ll avoid spoilers, but it does end very much like a Western, two characters threatening to take the law into their own hands as they ride off into the proverbial sunset. All the cast are very good, but Sam Rockwell in particular is pretty remarkable, almost stealing the film from McDormand. Dixon’s arc pushes credibility and really only works because Rockwell’s tricky performance saves some perhaps awkward writing.

Great film though, I really enjoyed it. Maybe its because it turned out to be something other than what I was expecting. Its so unusual to be take by surprise by films these days.

6 thoughts on “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

  1. I thought it was superb too. It’s funny and tragic, sometimes within a scene. And it packs a real emotional wallop, right up to the redemptive ending. I do wish films like this were the norm these days rather than the exception.

    1. Yes, it was really surprising and its so refreshing to see something new like this. Very often -and particularly in its ending- it felt like a 1970s movie, or a Robert Altman drama. Which in 2018 has to be something special,

  2. Chalk me up as a fan also. It was nice to find McDonagh back on form after I loved In Bruges but was bored by Seven Psychopaths. I like his world view: having tragedy rub up against comedy at every turn, no matter how bleak the situation, is just real life, as far as I’m concerned. Same too with some of the characters and their storylines — they’re ‘messy’, in the sense that they’re not necessarily deserved or earned, which I guess is why some people seemed to hate the film because of where Dixon’s story went. But, again, that’s just like life as I see it — sometimes seemingly bad people turn out to not be that bad actually, or a bit of both, and good people don’t always get a fair resolution.

    1. I really need to see In Bruges. Its on Amazon Prime so I’ll catch up with it this month, probably while up Scotland. Meanwhile if ever the 4K of Three Billboards turns up at a good price I’ll likely pick it up to watch again.

  3. Pingback: In Bruges – the ghost of 82

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