Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Film Review by Pat Viale
Director: Martin McDonagh
Writer: Martin McDonagh
Stars: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Director Martin McDonagh is probably better know in Ireland as the author of some of the most memorable new plays to have graced the Irish stage in recent years. Set in Connamara, “The Beauty Queen of Leenane”, “The Lonesome West” and “The Lieutenant of Inishmore” have had sell-out runs and won numerous awards at home and abroad. More recently his plays “The Pillowman” and “Hangmen” were awarded the Laurence Olivier prize for best new play, the former also nominated for a Tony award for its Broadway production.
McDonagh had always expressed an interest in film and in 2006 won an Oscar for Best Short Film for “Six Shooter”, his first foray into the world of cinema. Since then he directed “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths” to great acclaim but with his latest film, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” he has moved into a different class. The marriage of a terse, witty script and flawless acting create a film that has a long burn and deserves the cult status it will doubtlessly acquire.
The story centres on Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a woman struggling to cope with the unsolved abduction, rape and murder of her teenage daughter. Seven months have passed without a suspect being found and, feeling that the police are losing interest in the crime, Mildred rents three billboards outside her small town, putting up notices that call into question the work of the police, specifically that of the police chief, Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). The response is immediate. Local residents are appalled at the image this creates of their town and do all they can to discourage her, as do some members of the police, particularly, the racist, thuggish deputy, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell).
Undaunted, Mildred refuses to back down feeling that, finally, the case is getting the attention it deserves. A television station has featured it on its news programme and even if local reaction is often negative, she feels that any interest in the case is better than none. As the action escalates with violence on all sides, McDonagh illustrates the impossibility of controlling an outcome once wheels have been set in motion. His strength is presenting us here with multi-faceted characters, making his audience constantly reassess their judgement, focusing on the grey areas of intent and effect rather than the black and white of absolutes.
McDormand’s performance as Mildred is as good as any you’ll ever see (winning her a Golden Globe last night), certainly her best since “Fargo”. Rockwell, too, is a revelation as the flawed but ultimately redeemable deputy and this role should certainly propel him into the rank of top Hollywood stars (again, winning a Golden Globe). Harrelson’s gentle, moving performance is perfectly judged but the star of this film must be Martin McDonagh whose unsettling comic script and flawless direction make it a totally memorable experience. Don’t miss it.