Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges)
Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish
Review by Jordan
“What’s the law on what ya can and can’t say on a billboard?”
For Eddie’s take on the film CLICK HERE
Like the isolated, towering billboards on the old highway outside Ebbing, Missouri, Martin McDonagh’s latest film is one of great distraction and simmering frustration. The bold black text on a striking red backdrop, seeking to return to the consciences of the town’s residents and police force an unspeakable crime committed 7 months ago for which no-one has yet been arrested, instead incites anger and isolation, directed in the types of wrong places only fickle, ignorant or troubled minds can go.
With the murder of her daughter at the hands of an unknown killer haunting her every day, Mildred (McDormand) fervently, and understandably, seeks retribution, and is as perplexed by the apparent lack of urgency shown by Ebbing’s Chief Willoughby as she is about the common lack of decency and level of hypocrisy shown by most. A good, well respected man, Willoughby (Harrelson) is also dying of cancer, a secret he confides to Mildred not as an excuse, but out of respect.
Attempting to repress the obvious torment he feels for his mentor’s illness, Officer Dixon (Rockwell) represents the biggest distraction of all. At times reprehensible, his ignorance is matched only by his disturbed sense of loyalty, and his confrontations and interactions with Mildred, particularly the manner in which they change, form the backbone of a film that is never quite what you expect it to be.
With an insular, semi-rural setting occupying a place in time that seems far from current, a web of characters with differing challenges to overcome and a terrible crime that sees them collide, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has all the hallmarks of a classic American mystery in the mould of Joe R. Lansdale, if only it weren’t for that aforementioned frustration: it’s not a mystery at all.
McDonagh, who again illustrates an unrivalled ability to generate humour from disturbing situations, chooses to use the unsolved murder as a McGuffin, serving to provide a platform for exploring the human ability to be so constantly sidetracked from what’s really important. In retrospect, the ending is indeed unexpected, and appears an impossibility while themes of redemption and forgiveness haven’t been fully explored, but after such a well-established, enthralling setup, I’m not convinced that its satisfying.
As intended, the resentment of Ebbing’s residents is so frustratingly misdirected, along with the viewer’s attention.
Featuring a trio of mesmerizing performances, most notably from Sam Rockwell as he embodies a good heart hidden to most by despicable thoughts and actions, as well as a number of single scenes as well constructed as the OST that accompanies them, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri both stands out and is hampered by intentionally not being what it appears. What is it, then? You can decide along the way…