Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has been garnering a hell of a lot of attention of late. From awards to critical reception, it’s all been positive. The question is, does it live up to it?
Brit Martin McDonagh has made a name for himself writing and directing dark comedic movies with a violent slant thrown in. 2008’s In Bruge was, and still is, nothing short of brilliant. Whilst his follow-up, 2012’s Seven Psychopaths, didn’t quite reach the same level, it showed the man has a flare for visuals and an ear for dialogue.
Five years have passed since Seven Psychopaths but fear not, for McDonagh has returned with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, and for those worried, what with all the awards interest and all, that perhaps he’s strayed from his usual trope, you should worry not. Definitely, worry not.
The message on the three billboards is aimed straight at the local police, in particular sheriff Willoughby, Woody Harrelson (War For The Planet Of The Apes, Rampart), and ask why, seven months after Mildred’s daughter was brutally raped and killed, no-one has been apprehended.
The three billboards prove divisive amongst the good towns people of Ebbing, in particular, and perhaps unsurprisingly, with the police force and one officer in particular; Dixon, Sam Rockwell (Cowboys & Aliens, Moon).
Dixon isn’t the sharpest tool in the box, in fact sometimes he’s not even in the box. But, he’s loyal and always tries, though often he tries far too hard and can’t always see past his own, or his mothers, Sandy Martin (Napoleon Dynamite, Speed), prejudices.
The tension in the town is increased when sheriff Willoughby takes his own life, Dixon throws a man through a window, the billboards are set on fire and so is the police station. It reaches a crescendo and it’s hard to see how it will end, but end it does.
Not only does Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri live up to the hype, it surpasses it and then some. McDonagh brings his previous dark humour, lots of dark humour, but it’s expertly placed amongst the tragic story of a mother, herself not without prejudice, looking for justice.
McDormand is a fabulous piece of casting, McDonagh writing the part with her in mind, though it took her husband Joel Coen to finally convince her to take the role. The pain on her face is clear for us to see, but equally this is a woman who will not be told no. She kicks when she needs, literally and figuratively, and kicks wonderfully.
Rockwell excels as Dixon, the not-so-bright cop who eventually puts his heart in the right place. He’s a bully, but a mummies boy, a cop, but one who thinks that means he can do whatever he wants, to whomever he wants.
Harrelson is the sensible voice between the two, a man who seems to see the good in everyone, but the one who has been given cancer and can’t bear the thought of putting his wife, Abbie Cornish (Geostorm, 6 Days), and two children through seeing him deteriorate.
We also get John Hawkes (Contagion, Martha Marcy May Marlene) as Mildred’s, alleged, violent ex-husband now dating a 19-year old Samara Weaving (The Babysitter, Ash vs Evil Dead (TV)) and Peter Dinklage (Game Of Thrones (TV), Pixels) as a man who does Mildred a solid but also makes her realise what she’s doing to others and herself. All are brilliant.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a superbly written, stunningly beautifully directed piece of work with a lovely smattering of dark, black humour for good measure. It will remind you of McDonagh’s previous work and The Coen Brothers work too. But that’s no bad thing, not at all.