Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Review #1,533






THE SCOOP
Director:  Martin McDonagh
Cast:  Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Plot:  A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter's murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Genre:  Drama / Crime / Comedy
Awards:  Won Best Screenplay (Venice).  Won People's Choice Award (Toronto).  Nom. for 7 Oscars - Best Picture, Best Leading Actress, Best Supporting Actor (x2), Best Original Screenplay, Best Film Editing, Best Original Score 
Runtime:  115 mins
Rating:  NC16 (passed clean) for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references
Distributor:  20th Century Fox

IN RETROSPECT (Spoilers: NO)
“I don't think them billboards is very fair.”

British writer-director Martin McDonagh must be one of the most exciting filmmakers to emerge in the last ten years, having made two features that now have their own devoted fans—In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012).  His third, a quintessential American film, could be his calling card.  

An accomplished gem of a movie (and bearing a conspicuous title no less), Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the year’s great films, featuring a tour de force performance by Frances McDormand, who plays Mildred, a thuggish mother whose daughter was raped and killed a year ago, but still finds no closure from the town’s ineffective police.  Along with Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, playing embattled police chief and hot-tempered officer respectively, the trio could all get acting nominations at the Oscars. 

They benefit from a great screenplay (winner at the Venice Film Festival) by McDonagh, who doesn’t hold back on portraying the ills of American society, including institutionalised racism and police brutality, which also occur in other countries, but certainly feel more pronounced in visibility and consequence in the States.  

At times shocking if also darkly hilarious, Three Billboards echoes the spirit of the Coens’s Americana-tinged films, not least by association with McDormand (who starred in films like Blood Simple (1984) and Fargo (1996)), but also with the Coens’s long-time composer Carter Burwell, whose no-fuss score here creates just the right amount of mood.  If you revisit the opening sequence of Fargo, you may agree that it shares a similar musical essence as Three Billboards, even if they are tonally different movies.

One of the more entertaining movies to hit our shores in the build-up to the awards season, Three Billboards maintains McDonagh’s consistency as an adept filmmaker.  But what is surprising is that despite the seeming unredeemable qualities of the characters, his immense compassion for them strikes a deep chord.  

I think this resonates most in the film, more so than the acting or storytelling—some of its best moments occur when the characters aren’t verbally abusing each other, but find quiet if unlikely solace—or gasp!—potential redemption in each other.  If anything else, the film’s topicality only serves to remind viewers that America remains haunted by its past, continues to be mired in the present, and faces a future without a Hollywood ending. 

Verdict:  Martin McDonagh’s third feature is an accomplished gem of screenwriting and acting, but it is his compassion for his characters that resonates most.

GRADE: A-







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