THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Featuring: Woody Harrelson, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Abbie Cornish, Zeljko Ivanek
In Ebbing Mildred Hayes’ daughter’s murder investigation has stagnated. There are no new leads and seemingly no movement in the case at all. It seems the local please, lead by Chief William Willoughby are doing nothing. So Mildred at her wit’s end makes a big statement, renting and then painting three roadside billboard signs leading into her town with messages to the police and its chief. Unfortunately, the first person to see the signs is the police officer Dixon who is already under a cloud for allegedly torturing black detainees and with his penchant for violence and brash over-reaction he gets personally involved. With this match, the tinder that is the friction between Mildred and Ebbing’s police force finally explodes and catches fire with a fury that consumes everyone.
There is no doubt that although the subject matter of McDonagh’s lauded film is difficult and dark there is a lot of humour on display and it this humour that greases the cogs of ‘Three Billboards’ because without it the film would be an unrelenting misery-fest full of hatred, anger, violence and revenge.
As it is those three motifs drive the film from beginning to end.
Nobody in the film, not even those most seemingly unredeemable idiot, are all bad, all they appear to be and if the story tries to be positive it tries to show this, although on the other hand for balance it shows those that would traditionally wear the ‘white hat’ are as bad and in some cases worse than those that oppose them.
There is much to laugh out during the running time ostensibly at the superbly played, by Sam Rockwell, ultra-violent, ultra-stupid Dixon. There is much to be disgusted by in the same character, violent, a dullard and simply repulsive, but he too has reasons and can be a better person.
The most facetted character is Woody Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby who by all precedents you should dislike but the more the film moves on the more human he becomes, the more you can see he is the one truly honorable human being in the film.
Francis McDormand is great, again, as the driven, one-path only, Mildred, but Mildred would have been more interesting if we had seen more of the softer side of her as we witnessed in the interrogation room with Willoughby. Understandably the message of the film is the how anger left to own devices can eat you up, destroy you and those around you and centre to this is Mildred. Make her softer and you dilute the message.
In trying to get this interesting point across the film itself is weakened by a few plot-holes, one of which is so big it very nearly swallows the whole film. The incident with Rockwell’s Dixon and Caleb Landry Jones’ Red, you will know it when you see the film, is a way of showing the pent-up anger and hatred but the outcome is preposterous, particularly when witnessed by the new Chief of Police. It is this point, and others soon after that involve Dixon, that takes the film from a gritty morality tale into a slightly sillier film. It’s a shame because the film was heading towards being a classic.
The film is not a bad film but the story needed tidying up and being a bit more grounded. The actor and performances are fantastic and what elevated it above the mundane, even Caleb Landry Jones seems to have lost his mumbly-Joe way of speaking, but the story is loose or takes liberties just to make the world seem a bit seedier and nastier and so a character can go on a journey. It’s a cheap short-cut that does not need to be in there. Which is odd because one the messages you get is life isn’t like that, it’s messy and will not work out the way you want it too.
A good film, shot in typical small-town America, showing the flaws and drives of us all and how any situation can drive us up the wrong path dragging everyone with it, acted superbly and fun but not quite there. Not quite but so close.