three billboards review Frances McDormand Woody HarrelsonYear: 2017
Director(s): Martin McDonagh
Writer(s): Martin McDonagh
Region of Origin: US

Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1
Rating: R
35mm, Digital, Color, 115 mins

Synopsis: In this darkly comic drama, a mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder, when they fail to catch the culprit. (Source)

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri tackles the two purest emotions in the human spectrum – anger and pain. Both are a reaction to forces we often can’t control, and can be crippling and impossible to escape from. They’re also, sadly, a default response to how most of us live our lives, resulting in a society that’s perpetually locked in a vicious cycle intent on ripping itself apart. Martin McDonagh’s latest is a vivid reflection of these traits, spinning a pitch-black yarn that feels more like n raw, exposed nerve than anything else. Three Billboards is simultaneously angry, riotous and mesmerizing, but beneath all of the horrible human revelations, is an understated plea for us to do better. Francis McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson also turn in three of the best performances you’ll see this year, making the story’s urgent message a must see.

Sometime after the horrifying death of her daughter, Mildred (Frances McDormand) decides to take action into her own hands. Furious over the local law enforcement’s stalled progress, she rents out 3 dilapidated billboards, which are sitting just outside of her small town of Ebbing, Missouri. The 3 billboards create a brutal message pointed at the town’s Chief. “Raped While Dying”, “Still No Arrests” and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”. The ads instantly infuriate Willoughby’s racist Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), but Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) himself is forced to confront some unfortunate truths, all while dealing with his own horrifying circumstance. As the ads start to turn heads, the outrage begins to expose the town’s embedded prejudices and fears, causing a chain of events that threatens to bring about more violence.

Like his previous efforts, McDonagh’s latest takes no prisoners, delivering a perfect storm of unpredictable twists, irreverent humor and brutal reflections about our own human frailty. Through every step, McDonagh never takes the easy way out. Mildred’s efforts aren’t a means to an end, but a catalyst for exploring the ways we process grief, and how our differences dissolve under pain and struggle. This unsaid connection is the backbone of McDonagh’s film, which lines each scene and interaction with painful and razor-sharp laughs, only to pull the rug out from under each character as they try to hold on to what little they have left. I’m not gonna lie, there are a few scenes in particular which will straight out gut you emotionally, with McDonagh’s existential dread leading to powerfully understated crescendos of catharsis. That the film deftly balances its shifting tones and twisty plot lines with perfection is a testament to McDonagh’s humane sensibilities. In the end, the film is an expertly crafted look at truths we’d rather ignore, leading up to a question with an ever-elusive answer – where do we go from here?

three billboards review Frances McDormand John HawkesOn pace with McDonagh’s forceful direction and script, is an ensemble that brings their A-game. McDormand is fierce as the mourning Mildred, struggling with guilt and regret and manifesting it through forceful will. This is absolutely a career-high for McDormand, who’s always been stellar, but tops anything she’s ever done with a delicate role teeming with nuance. McDormand anchors everything with blinding, unyielding conviction, yet all of her strength comes from a very devastating place. Harrelson’s Willoughby lends a sympathetic, yet troubled ear, unable to really do much while struggling with his own trials. I don’t want to say too much, but Harrelson lends a heartfelt perspective to a unique character. Rockwell is the dark horse here, giving his mama’s boy Dixon a journey we just can’t see coming. As the town’s openly prejudiced deputy with a violent anger problem, he’s a character who wears his heart on his sleeve, even if it’s woefully misguided. Still, his performance gives us an unexpected side to the story, playing someone who’s easy to hate without devolving into stereotypes. This trio is the film’s core, but Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges and Peter Dinklage round out the town with memorable contributions of their own.

There’s no way to watch Three Billboards without being profoundly affected. Its portrait of loss, grief, anguish and retribution cuts too deep. McDonagh is a master storyteller with a keen sense of humanity’s frailties, highlighting both the worst and best of what we can aspire to be. Naturally, a film like this doesn’t tie up in a neat bow, but does something even better. As we sit silently, watching Mildred and her neighbors’ descent into darkness, we’re complicit, and the film’s conclusion leaves us to ponder our own experiences, making us wonder what we’re capable of when faced with our worst fears.

SG