It’s 2018 and despite missing yesterday, I really want to try and post something a day on here now- even if it ends up just being a link to something I happened to find funny. Having just watched a movie I really enjoyed, and seeing as i used to write reviews on a daily basis, I figured reviewing that would count for today!
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes and Peter Dinklage.
Written and Directed by: Martin McDonagh
After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby, the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon — an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence — gets involved, the battle is only exacerbated.
Given that the premise to this movie focuses on the unsolved rape and murder of a teenage girl, you would be forgiven for thinking that Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would be a bleak and depressing watch. And at times it is. This is by no means a happy movie and there is a lot of misery and upset that plagues the central characters. But, interwoven in all that is a dark comedic vibe that makes the script story and characters come to life in ways that I wasn’t expecting going in.
The film starts us off seven months after Mildred’s daughter’s death and we immediately get a sense of how frustrated she is that she’s had no answers or closure as to what happened. Her blame for this lies solely with the police department and as the man in charge, it’s Willoughby that initially is the target of her ire; his is the name that is plastered across billboard number 3. What follows is a story that is utterly engrossing for almost all of its run time. The cast here are across the board superb. Everyone here puts in a stellar performance but despite Sam Rockwell giving her a run for her money, this is Frances McDormand’s movie through and through. She’s utterly captivating in every second of screen time she gets which is all the more remarkable given that Mildred is not an easy role to play. She’s almost joyless given what has happened to her and her fractured family, yet her cynical and blunt nature allows for some wonderfully, sometimes uncomfortable, comedic moments that really help make the character one that feels oddly warm despite her cold hardened exterior.
I mentioned Rockwell too and this is the best I’ve seen him. Officer Dixon isn’t a nice guy by any stretch of the imagination. He’s a racist mother’s boy that has little care for his job or the people that he’s meant to be protecting. And yet despite his flaws, Rockwell makes him almost sympathetic. Dixon also ends up having what I think to be the best arc of the whole movie- something I would not have picked when he first appeared on the screen and showed what kind of man he is. Just naming these two seems like a detriment to everyone else as there isn’t anyone that puts a foot wrong. Harrelson for example is wonderful as Chief Willoughby and delivers a nuanced and understated performance that really made me feel for the character and the horrible things he’s going through. Even those with far smaller parts are memorable, such as Peter Dinklage as the alcoholic “town midget” with an unreciprocated crush.
Performances aside, Three Billboards would be nothing without a decent script and Martin McDonagh delivers that in spades. This is a sharp script that doesn’t waste a moment of dialogue. And there’s some fantastic lines here with laughs coming at the most unexpected moments and at the most unexpected of times. There’s an early zinger in a scene with Mildred and a priest at her home that took me by surprise with its crassness that seemed to perfectly suit the scene. McDonagh is also on directing duties and he is equally as impressive with that as he is with penning the screenplay. This is a beautifully shot film with the rural location and the small-town setting used perfectly. He never oversells a moment despite the fact there are a few moments where it would be possible to do so. One scene in particular featuring Mildred in perhaps her angriest moment of the movie could easily have been overblown, yet it’s somewhat subdued despite being the closest to an action sequence that we get.
If there’s issues to be found in Three Billboards, it would be, at least for me, its ending. Until just before the credits rolled, this was an easy perfect score film for me, yet it’s ambiguity with its conclusion left me feeling a little cold. It’s not that I need every story I experience to have a neat and clear-cut end, but this was one that I felt needed something more final to close it out. It almost feels like it ended too soon, like there were a few more minutes worth of story still to be told that for whatever reason ended up being removed from the final product. Of course, that’s not the case, but it’s hard not to feel like things are left incomplete in a way that is more frustrating than they are intriguing.
Despite an ending that felt too abrupt, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri is a joy to watch. Brilliantly written, acted and directed, this is one of those movies that had me completely immersed in its world right from the start and had me gripped until the final frame. Highly recommended.