Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a crime mystery drama directed by Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell (quick video review). McDonagh is known for In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, two unorthodox and spirited crime thrillers with a sharp cast. He’s continued this tradition with Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, which also has some parallels with the films of the Coen brothers. The biggest parallel is undoubtedly the presence of Frances McDormand, who is probably best known for her performance in Fargo instead of playing a role from the perspective of the police, she has undertaken a tough no-nonsense civilian vigilante.
Taking place in a small town, we journey with a woman seeking justice for her daughter, petitioning the local law enforcement to reopen a “forgotten” case. Her unconventional and confrontational way, creates a state of unrest in which a well-liked police chief is pressured into taking action. As things spiral towards peril and the media ratchets up the stakes, the dispute turns into a small-scale war between a woman wrestling for closure and a police station going through an overhaul.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is a character-driven crime mystery drama with characters moving from lovable to despicable and back again. The timely subject matter about tension between police and civilians adds an extra layer of suspense to this curious nugget. The film counterbalances itself between three primary characters, each taking turns on the see-saw to make for gut-busting and intense entertainment with a dark comedy edge. McDonagh introduces a Western element, using the concept of a drifter taking on the town’s sheriff through a civilian on the outskirts and a police chief with a secret. This law-unto-itself spirit is carried through the tone, which is fierce, relentless and almost fearless.
“Care to make it interesting?”
Frances McDormand isn’t concerned with celebrity, she’s fixated with the purity of the craft, making her performances indelible on the fabric of pop culture. Known for characters who embody sheer determination and a stubborn sense of moxie, it’s as if the role was written for her. Instead of adopting an obvious maternal instinct, McDonagh gives McDormand the role of renegade, taking the police’s apathy and ineptitude as a personal insult. While arguably a career best from her, she’s supported by two six-gun shooters in Harrelson and Rockwell. Harrelson is almost a veteran of offbeat small town crime drama and deftly delivers one of his most sensitive turns. Rockwell is a full tilt and underrated character actor, who finds his feet in a transformative role as a frustrated ball of fury on a power trip as an angry, racist cop.
Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri could have been positioned as a TV series like Twin Peaks. The film centres on the unsolved murder of a young woman, preoccupies itself with the town’s folk while lazily peeling away a series of mysterious layers. The colourful characters make the film a joy to watch, allowing a strong ensemble of actors familiar with the genre terrain, the space to truly own their characters. The symbolic visual power, ever-widening ensemble of solid performances and fierce attitude of Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri makes it memorable, iconic even. Tempered by dark comedy, it serves as a curious commentary on the nature of justice and regret.
The bottom line: Powerful