Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Samara Weaving, Caleb Landry Jones, Clarke Peters, Željko Ivanek
Run Time: 115 mins
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the long overdue follow-up from playwright / director Martin McDonagh after he directed both In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, two films that I love. I would even go as far to say that In Bruges is one of my personal favourite films of all time.
Based off McDonagh’s own script, the film tells the story of Mildred (Frances McDormand) whose daughter has been brutally raped and murdered but she feels that the Police don’t want to do anything about it. When she purchases the rent to three unused Billboards close to the titular town and puts up three provocative billboards, things take a dramatic turn in the town.
McDonagh has a wonderful talent when it comes to screenwriting and with a lot of his works, not just on-screen, there are moments which are both darkly comic yet heartfelt. He also has a beautiful quality to writing profanity, always finding artful ways to include it.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves McDonagh’s writing talent again and then some. McDonagh has such a great ear for dialogue in this film and there are so many wonderful exchanges of dialogue between characters. It is frequently comic, always entertaining and what I particularly love about this film, is it takes many unexpected diversions in its narrative. The film leads you to believe a certain plot point will go in one direction, but McDonagh in multiple instances, subverts expectations and this makes this film all the more fresh. There are many moments where I was genuinely in awe and shock. It is a biting drama about murder, investigating and how people have multiple sides to their personality.
As always in McDonagh’s films, the performances are great. McDonagh reunites with a lot of his Seven Psychopaths cast and the standouts are Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, all playing typically larger-than-life characters. McDormand is simply brilliant as Mildred, a mother who just wants some closure who is also trying to sustain her family. Written with McDormand in mind, she is truly deserving of all the Awards attention she is getting. Equally so is Woody Harrelson, who I think gives the better performance between him and Rockwell as Chief Willoughby. Rockwell’s police officer is initially juvenile, racist and rather clueless about the real world but his character arc is so well developed and it’s one of his best performances.
Ben Davis’ cinematography is superb and he manages to capture the minutiae of the town to a tee, along with McDonagh’s script, making the town its own character in the drama. There is a particularly nail-biting sequence mid-way into the film, shot in one extended take, that is very satisfying. Less satisfying is Carter Burwell’s score which is a little forgettable compared to his other work, particularly in McDonagh’s other films, but there are some moments that fit the film very well.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri isn’t McDonagh’s best film however. It could even be the least out of his three feature length films although I would need to rewatch it multiple times to unpack it more. Certainly true though, without a doubt is this film has more baggage to it and isn’t quite as tightly edited, sagging a little in its ending.
Whilst I’m very happy McDonagh is finally being realised for the exceptional filmmaker that he is, it is slightly surprising to see this film clean up at the Golden Globes and at the moment, lead the pack in the Awards race. There is a danger with this narrative of the film being labelled racist and it’s not exactly a crowd pleaser.
Regardless of its Awards status, I loved Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and found it to be a highly satisfying film which plays against expectations and it contains excellent performances and a brilliant script. Time will tell if I rate it as highly as his first two films, but I cannot wait to rewatch it and discover smaller details that this film has to offer. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a must-see.