It has more crazy zig zags than a 90’s girl crimped hair (this is a good thing)
7 months have passed since the brutal rape, murder and incineration of teenage Angela Hayes; her mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) is fed up with the lack of progression in her case. She makes a bold move by scribing three billboards with controversial messages aimed at the Ebbing police department; mainly toward well loved Chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson)
Reactions are mixed amongst the town, not least one of them being second in command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell); a hot-headed drinker with an unwavering loyalty to his chief. As the battle intensifies, so do the challenges faced by each individual involved.
Man oh man, every awards season there is an independent, ‘not purposely aiming at awards’ film that blows audiences away and this is it. A dark comedy is not a combination executed well by most but the third film by Irish writer-director Martin McDonagh scores a bulls-eye. The darts thrown hit you in the heart, the head and your funny bone; it’s like a washing machine of emotions that mess with you all within 120 minutes. The sheer spark that is Frances McDormand electrocutes you to the core in a performance worthy of a second gold statue.
A seemingly broken yet completely self assured divorcee, the film opens with her laying down $5000 to rent out the 3 billboards for a month. A final act of desperation to embarrass the police force into doing more than just “torturing black folk” (an indication of how much crazy lies within Officer Dixon) Chief Willoughby suffers the most heat from her actions; A soulful father figure for the town who is brought to life by Woody Harrelson. You can guess what happens on from here – wait, hold on a second…can you? The story seems to be leading towards a battle of opposite sides, but very quickly we realise McDonagh has written a zig zag of side stories that tease you away from expectations. Particularly in the first half the light shines on Harrelson in the most affecting way; I’m not going to spoil it but prepare to be shocked.
The subject matter is one to take seriously, and it’s a U-turn in comparison to McDonagh’s prior films ‘In Bruges’ & ‘Seven Psychopaths’. However, he still incorporates the far reaching depths of foul language and the most inappropriate of jokes at the most inappropriate of times. The close-knuckle script carries many conflicts with life and death, justice and injustice, anger and upset plus many more. But the intelligence behind the writing blends this messiness within ‘Three Billboards’ into a fluid motion of sub-plots that bounce off one another. With undertones of racism, murder, alcoholism, abuse and hopelessness, you almost feel guilty for laughing’; but the comedic effect is brilliant.
Frances McDormand has an inept ability to paralyze you with her face. She doesn’t need to say or do anything; with just her eyes you can feel the absolute weight of the emotion she is conveying. Relaxed in comfy blue overalls, her look mirrors her personality; not giving a crap what anyone else thinks of her. She is an absolute force of nature that suspends you by the uncerainty of her next move; will it be a moment of weakness crying by the road or a battering of cussess to cut you deeper. We see her vulnerability not only as a mother but as a victim of domestic abuse at the hands of ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes); who acts a a great catalyst to add extra depth to her character.
As complicated as Midlred Hayes is, the character that goes through the biggest arc is Officer Dixon. It almost seems impossible the transformation he undergoes but it’s remarkably credible. A racist with complete disregard for civil rights and the law he stands to serve; this jackass deserves no attention in the beginning. As life teaches it’s lesson to Midlred however, they come full circle to Dixon too. Through grief, loss and trauma, he finds his own two feet to stand on and we end up empathetic; almost as if we’re weirdly proud of him. Both of these central characters appear that they are on a path of personal redemption together, and in a fantastic final scene; does McDonagh give them the peace they so desire? That’s up to you to decide.
I make no secret of the fact that I love Sam Rockwell. Ever since seeing his dance moves in Charlie’s Angels, I’ve noticed his incredible talent and he does Dixon absolute justice. He’s so natural in every moment, in every piece of dialogue and in every interaction with other actors. Yet, his character is far from that; whether he’s throwing kids out of windows or jumping through fires, Rockwell perfectly portrays the balance of a crazy but caring soul. Considering this, he just feels so comfortable to watch on the screen. Both him and McDormand have been sweeping the awards and I am so ready for him to finally the recognition he so rightly deserves!
The only acting flaw within the film comes from Abbie Cornish, who plays Chief Willloughby’s wife. She weaves in and out of the main story, but I have no idea why because it doesn’t really make sense. It doesn’t happen often in a big film where I sit there and question ‘what exactly were they thinking casting this terrible actress?’ But it happened a lot with this one. Luckily, the strengths massively outweigh the negatives.
In a setting of a quiet town, this movie is everything but that. McDonagh has manufactured an emotionally draining story that leaves you laughing, crying, shocked and grateful for the family you have. He’s a fan of zig zagging the plot from one direction to the other, and this is why you can sit there for 2 hours totally gripped; with the added fact that the writing is actually good. The film has excelled to the heights due to the outstanding cast who have created memorable characters that each member of the audience can attach too.
I would compare this to last years ‘Manchester By The Sea’; it’s a very similar tone of film and both deliver great content. The aurora of a film having ‘award season buzz’ sometimes leaves audiences expecting too much or being put off altogether. But this one is worth investing your time in, put your faith in me and on my head be it!
4 and a half out of 5 midget dates