Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri

Frances Winston reviews Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, from director, Martin McDonagh 

Directed by: Martin McDonagh – Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish

The title and plot of  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri might read like a ‘based on a true events’ type tale, and you would be somewhat correct in thinking that. Although ostensibly a work of fiction, writer/director McDonagh has admitted that he was inspired to write the movie after seeing billboards about an unsolved crime, while travelling “somewhere down in the Georgia, Florida, Alabama corner”.

Using this as the basis of the story, he has come up with a crime-revenge drama, featuring a stellar cast. McDormand plays Mildred, a mother still grieving the loss of her daughter, who died as a result of a violent rape and murder. Frustrated by what she feels is the apathy of the police towards the investigation, she hires the three billboards of the title, and adorns them with posters which in sequence read: “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests?”, and “How come, Chief Willoughby?”

Obviously this proves somewhat provocative with the townsfolk and police. Especially since Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) is openly battling prostate cancer. With everyone’s feelings heightened, and Mildred determined to stand her ground, there can be no winners in this battle of wills.

McDonagh is renowned for his thought-provoking work, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is no exception. You don’t have to have experienced the tragedies depicted here in order to analyse the reactions of the characters and empathise with them. Like all his creations, they are deeply complex. No one is completely good or completely bad, meaning that your loyalties switch constantly while watching this.

The part of Mildred was written with McDormand in mind, and it shows. She is fantastic, and really gets to run the gamut of emotions. Rockwell’s Officer Dixon is possibly the most complex character here, and the one that will have you scratching your head, and he does a fantastic job in the role. His character really does go on the proverbial journey that you hear tell of.

The only weak link I could find in terms of the performances was that of Abbie Cornish. She may look pretty as Chief Willoughby’s wife, but she has very little chemistry with Harrelson, her accent jumps all over the place, and you never really know what she’s doing there.

While the script on the whole is wonderful, and laced with dark humour and drama, there are one or two plot twists that you can see coming a mile away. This doesn’t necessarily detract from your enjoyment of them, but perhaps slightly less telegraphing would have been nice. This minor quibble aside, this is visually stunning with lots of wonderful shots, and the sound editing is fantastic.

Overall Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a wonderful and unforgettable film. It is thought-provoking, and leaves you with more questions than it originally posed. While the ending is far from satisfying, it seems appropriate to the story, and you will be pondering it long after the credits role.

Uncomfortable in places, but thoroughly compelling, I would be surprised if this didn’t pick up a few gongs in award season.

In Cinemas January 12th!

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