Frances McDormand unleashes hell in the blackest of black comedies, courtesy of Martin McDonagh.
After his breakout comedy In Bruges and its wild, male-centric follow-up Seven Psychopaths, writer/director Martin McDonagh shifts gears again for his most emotive film yet – and one led, no less, by a woman.
Mourning the murder of her daughter – and fuming at the stalled police investigation that has yet to yield any results – Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) revisits the scene of the crime to take out three billboard advertisements, which she hopes will stir interest in reviving the case. Needless to say, she doesn’t hold back. The ads provocatively read: ‘Raped while dying’, ‘And still no arrests?’ and ‘How come, Chief Willoughby?’
Almost instantly, they have the desired effect. A TV news crew show up to interview the straight-shooting mother-of-two about her intentions, before a riled up local police, in the form of Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and douchebag Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), begin demanding they be ripped down. Hayes becomes increasingly sidelined as the townsfolk turn sour – blaming her for a series of dramatic twists that are, to be fair, largely out of her control.
McDormand is a force of nature as the grieving mom whose anger exhibits itself with devastating results – and often, outrageously dry, foul-mouthed humour. Clearly inspired by her recent caustic turn in the Emmy winning HBO series Olive Kitteridge, McDormand kicks against convention and expectation, with an out-of-the-box performance that delivers what one would hope for, and so much more. McDonagh has said that he wrote the role specifically with McDormand in mind, and it shows – one can’t imagine anyone else pulling this off with such ferocity and style.
Starring opposite her, both Harrelson and Rockwell excel in supporting roles as hapless cops: one a diligent family man hiding a terrible secret, the other a racist redneck who resents being stuck caring for a toxic, ailing parent. Game of Thrones’ star Peter Dinklage, oddballs-for-hire John Hawkes and Caleb Landry Jones, and Aussies Abbie Cornish and Samara Weaving round out an excellent cast, many having worked with McDonagh before.
McDonagh’s script is very good, managing to find the right balance of near note-perfect humour and pathos, with an underlying sense of unimaginable loss and rage. It feels, in a sense, like the film McDonagh was born to make, after his previous forays into crime, comedy and punishment. This is by far his most assured, most accomplished work to date.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is deceptively dressed in dowdy, downhome threads, but fit to bursting with enough chutzpah to cause a riot. An affective soundtrack elevates proceedings even further, as does a well-placed nod to America’s ongoing race problem. Everyone involved appears to be having a ball with the material, and who can blame them? It’s every bit as good as its trailer suggested.
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