As one of my featured films in my fall preview article, I was super excited to attend the press screening of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Director and writer Martin McDonagh delivers another fantastic film, surpassing his critically acclaimed In Bruges with his burgeoning signature style of melding sharp wit with emotional poignancy. Harnessing the incredible talents of Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, and Woody Harrelson who play the three central characters, McDonagh crafts a treatise on personal accountability, redemption and the failings of small town America.
The story centers around Mildred (McDormand), a tough-as-nails and divorced gift shop clerk who decides to rent three billboards on a lonely highway outside her small town, Ebbing, Missouri. Her intention is to shake up police chief Willoughby (Harrelson), and reignite the investigation into her daughter’s violent murder. Her bold statement garners the desired response as well as some unexpected consequences that change the lives of many of the town’s citizens. The most affected are Chief Willoughby and the violent and dim-witted Officer Dixon (Rockwell). Rockwell’s mastery of his craft and excellent chemistry with his fellow actors shines through and he steals camera in every scene except those he shares with McDormand. Here they are equally matched and the two of them are sure to harness an Academy nod or two. Along with the incredible writing by McDonagh, these two actors are the gems of this film. Rockwell carries a remarkable character arc throughout the film, that skirts far from the clichés of redemption. McDormand owns her role of a woman whose heart of gold shines through her prickly personality and her “gives-no-fucks” attitude. She’s grieving the death of her teenage daughter and struggling with the helpless rage of a mother who can’t find justice for her murdered child. Harrelson is good and delivers as usual. Rockwell and McDormand are outstanding and treat the audience to some of the best acting this year.
As events unfold in Ebbing, the audience witnesses the plight of characters as they question the decisions they have made in life as well as make bold moves to change their respective destinies. This is a story about redemption, but it’s more complicated than that. The underlying theme is that one must accept personal responsibility not just for oneself, but for the community that one identifies with. The message is broadcasted early in the film when Mildred verbally flays a priest who comes to guilt her into taking down her billboards. The rest of the film shows characters living out this lesson while making a firm statement on the failings of white America. This movie takes on racism, sexism, police corruption, and our society’s general lack of personal accountability. There are many powerful statements being made in this film and more than a few “Hell yeah!” moments. There were a few whoops in the audience during the screening.
Accompanying those whoops of righteousness was laughter. This is a really funny movie. The writing is razor sharp and brilliant. It carries an air of sophistication and elegance while still being accessible and relatable. It’s hypnotic and rich with subtext. As much as it exposes the flaws of society, it also highlights the possibilities for good that lie within each person. It’s one of the best scripts of 2017.
Shot beautifully but simply, the film doesn’t use camera acrobatics for effect. It relies on good composition and lighting to let the actors play out their stories. While it lacks popular technical frills, it manages to deliver nuance and complexity through its high-level story-telling. It’s truly more of a character study than a visual smorgasbord, but it still boasts gorgeous locations and camera shots of rural "Missouri". It's actually shot in North Carolina, but it's still beautiful.
As one of my most anticipated films of this year, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is spectacular. It offers audiences an emotional roller-coaster with exceptional talent from its actors and writer/director. A must-see that is sure to come up many times during awards seasons, I highly recommend it and hope you support this third feature film by Martin McDonagh.
Thanks for reading,
The Diva Del Mar