Not since 1986 have I applauded out loud, in a packed cinema, for a movie that blew me away with the dynamic force of its female lead and its nuanced emotional and moral rollercoaster, of great cinematic story.
Within ten minutes, you will think you have sized up all the characters, but you will be completely unprepared for what McDonagh does next.
8 years ago, English/Irish, playwright/filmmaker, Martin McDonagh, wrote Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri in one single draft.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is McDonagh’s third film, following the slow burning cult success of In Bruges and his darkly twisted, Seven Psychopaths.
The narrative tightrope within Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is taut, confronting and pathos rich. In equal parts both tragic and hilariously funny.
The story opens with Mildred (Frances McDormand), her terrible grief has no tears left as she stands beneath three newly pasted billboards, billboards she has hired, billboards that witnessed the rape, murder and torching of Angela her teenage daughter, seven months earlier.
Since then there have been no arrests and the local police department have no leads.
Unable to accept the paralysis of her grief and fueled by fury, Mildred embodies the fight or die quality of a lone cowboy making a last stand against the local police and emblazons what must be the largest victim of violence impact statement and directs its lethal force at the town’s much loved, Chief of Police, Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).
Raped while dying
And still no arrests?
How come Chief Willoughby?
There is no word in the English language for the place that Mildred is left as the parent of a dead child. When a child loses a parent, they are an orphan. When a parent loses a child, there is no word.
Mildred’s rage is relentless and blows apart the minding-everyone’s-business, small town complicit charm, of Ebbing, Missouri.
When shooting Three Billboards, McDormand to intensify the combative fury and isolation she would bring to the screen and her fellow cast, McDormand kept herself isolated, only seeing the cast at final shooting. And it worked.
McDormand is simply outstanding in this role. Simply dressed in one commando-like-overall with barely no facial expression, her seething and impact are latent and volatile and you just know that her lethal cocktail of fury, grief and a sense that justice has not been served, will suffer no prisoners.
In a quote worthy scene, Mildred strides into the Police Station – her town popularity at the bottom of the heap, oblivious to a herd of police mulling about, she calls out to Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell) – a cop we’ve already sized up as the worst kind of cop – a cop that is stupid, racist and armed.
‘Hey fuckhead!’says Mildred.
‘What?’ says Dixon.
‘Don’t say what, Dixon, when she comes in calling you fuckhead’ says a Policeman.
McDonagh’s script is peppered, rich with racial taboos, social taboos and humanity. His characters, dark in pathos, humour and humanity. As a master storyteller, McDonagh’s skill is in serving up humour as a cathartic release after scenes heavy in tragic sadness.
Dixon tells Mildred, they don’t do “n—-r torturing” no more but “persons-of-color torturing”.
In a packed cinema we gasp together in horror, at Dixon’s racism and in a packed cinema we laugh out loud, together, at his stupidity.
The power of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is in its straightforward truths. There are no ambiguous wonderings.
McDonagh serves a plate full of raw humanity and we love it.
We recognize the familiarity of our shared humanity, the shades of our despair, our common rage and tragedy but ultimately our ability to use humour from that dark place to release tenderness, hope and redemption.
Martin McDonagh – Director, Producer, Writer, Playwright, Filmmaker.
Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
Produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh
Executive Producers Bergen Swanson, Diarmuid McKeown, Rose Garnett, David Kosse, Daniel Battsek
Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, John Hawkes, Caleb Landry Jones, Sandy Martin
All images with thanks to Pinterest