The latest film from Martin McDonagh is a powerful study of grief, anger and justice. Sure to be one of the best films of this year, or any year for that matter. Equally funny and heartbreaking, It’s not to be missed.
The McDonagh brothers (Martin & John Michael) are known for a particular brand of film, pitch black comedies punctured with moments of pure tragedy is their order of the day. Following his previous efforts In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, it seems it’s Martin’s turn to step up to the plate again, with his latest being a culmination of everything that worked so well in his other films, and then some.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri centres around Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother wallowing in a state of anger and depression following the brutal murder of her daughter. Several months have passed since the harrowing event with not a hint of conclusion from the local police force. Driven by pure frustration, Mildred sees an opportunity in three abandoned Billboards on a small road outside the town. Using them, she aims to send a message directly to the heart of the investigation, Chief Willoughby. To question him, to upset him and ultimately, to get him off his arse and solve the bloody case. Saying more of what goes on in Three Billboards would run the risk of spoiling the journey the film takes you on, but let’s just say it’s not exactly the film the trailer sells you. Believe me, that’s a good thing.
The film is funny, there’s no doubt about it. McDonagh has a clear knack for squeezing comedy out of moments you would’t expect and there’s a real sense of joy in some of the segments here. But like any McDonagh film, the balance to that joy is magnificent sadness. This film hits really hard when it wants to. One moment you’ll be in shock, the next you’ll be smiling. The director weaves seamlessly between the emotions and before you know it you’ve been put completely through the ringer. I’m not afraid to say that one sequence in particular brought more than a couple tears to my eye, as i’m sure it did the whole audience. There is such realism in the events on show that you can’t help but be swept along with these characters’ circumstances.
Sadness, revenge, justice, friendship and love. These are all themes present in the film and they permeate everyone in the town of Ebbing. It’s a thrilling drama with layered characters, layers that slowly unravel as the film goes on. Just when you think you’ve got a handle on someone, they reveal another side to themselves and you’re left wondering who to root for. Of course, to put so much weight on the study of the characters means having a good enough cast to pull it off. A goal the actors absolutely smash on this occasion.
Frances McDormand plays the lead role of Mildred for example. One of the most underrated yet consistent character actors working today, she is absolutely perfect here. I loved the character of Mildred. She’s broken, depressed and extremely angry. But she’s not perfect. Her plight is something we’re obviously sympathetic to, but despite that she doesn’t always make it easy. She has a mean streak, a real blunt edge that she doesn’t mind swinging around. McDormand is utterly commanding in the role and strikes the perfect balance between vulnerable and fearsome. She’s wickedly sharp, says exactly what she means and does exactly what she feels needs to be done. McDormand has already picked up a Golden Globe for her performance but the credit should continue to be heaped onto her. She’s never been better.
Equally captivating is Sam Rockwell in the role of Dixon, the police force’s aggressive gun slinger and racist prisoner-torturer. He’s played brilliantly by Rockwell. Being one of my favourite actors, i’m always inclined to love any character he plays, but he does a good job of showing a dark side here. A side you really don’t want to cross. But as with everyone else in the film, that isn’t his only dimension. One moment he’s cracking skulls, the next he’s a naive momma’s boy getting patronised in a bar. The pins never quite fall where you expect them to and I love that about the film.
The cast on the whole are outstanding, Woody Harrelson gives another ‘best of’ performance as Chief Willoughby and the rest of supporting characters are equally memorable. It also helps that McDonagh has given his characters such brilliant lines to chew up. His screenplay is excellent and one of the most original in recent years. Speeches are fork-tongued and witty, and absolutely littered with casual swearing. Like his other films, he uses harsh words as an art form, dropping C-Bombs at the drop of a hat. But it never feels gratuitous, it always makes sense to the character and the situation. With all of the hate, anger and sadness going on, extra importance is added to his comedic timing. Moments of levity come at just the right time, often to help wash away the sadness or to puncture the shock. The balance is spot on throughout.
Simply put, you really should check out Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. It’s hilarious, it’s heartbreaking and it’s undoubtedly Martin McDonagh’s best film. It’s the first film to give me glossy eyes for long while, and it’s one of the most unique and human dramas i’ve ever seen. I loved it.
Watch it if you liked:
In Bruges, The Guard, Seven Psychopaths, Fargo