Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

Directed by: Martin McDonagh | 115 minutes | crime, drama | Actors: Frances McDormand, Caleb Landry Jones, Kerry Condon, Sam Rockwell, Alejandro Barrios, Jason Redford, Darrell Britt-Gibson, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Riya may Atwood, Selah Atwood, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek, Amanda Warren, Malaya Rivera Drew, Sandy Martin

Life is unfair. People die far too young, from an illness, accident or crime. They have to deal with racism, sexism and violence. Those who are wronged feel the anger bubbling up in them. But how do we deal with our anger? With that fact, British-Irish screenwriter and director Martin McDonagh (known for the great black comedy ‘In Bruges’ from 2008) got to work. He was inspired by a number of billboards calling attention to an unsolved crime, “somewhere in Georgia, Florida or Alabama, that corner.” “The anger that had caused those signs to be put there was palpable and wouldn’t let go of me.” Ultimately, that experience spurred McDonagh to write a fictional screenplay about exactly such a situation. “Once I thought in my head that it must be a mother who had put up the billboards, everything fell into place.” The pitch-black tragicomedy ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ (2017) was born.

In many Hollywood movies, anger is a sinful phenomenon and it doesn’t pay to return evil for evil. McDonagh believes that you can be angry if the situation evokes those emotions in you. Make yourself heard, fight against that injustice. Because it is only when you let your anger out that there is room for other feelings, such as understanding, acceptance and compassion. The central character in “Three Billboards,” Mildred Hayes (a genius Frances McDormand), has every right to be furious. Ten months ago, her daughter Angela was raped and murdered, but since then the police have made no progress in the search for the perpetrator. Mildred hasn’t heard anything in months and it bothers her so much that she buys three billboards on the side of a secluded road just outside her hometown of Ebbing, to shake things up with provocative lyrics. The local police chief, the widely respected Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), is mentioned by name and by name on the billboards, which leads to a lot of noise in the town. When the regional media is also covering the case, the vilest of the entire force, Agent Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell is on a roll), decides to put things in order to preserve his boss’s reputation – and his own job. – to save from destruction.

If you think you have any idea where this story is going, think again. The scenario of ‘Three Billboards’ always takes a different turn than you would expect. Anyone who expects solving the murder to be the main focus here will be disappointed. This is about a snowball effect of angry outbursts as a result of setting up the provocative billboards. At the core, the reactions stem from good intentions, but once the fuse has been lit, little is left of it. McDonagh spares (virtually) none of his characters; everyone has their weaknesses and imperfections, not least Mildred and Dixon, two figures who have been through a lot in life and are overcome by their anger. The characters were written with actors Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell in mind; probably that’s why the roles are so perfect for them. McDormand is able to tell exactly what’s on her mind with a single glance or with her body language and facial expression and is brilliant at playing seething women who don’t mince words (Mildred’s way of silencing a preachy priest is genius). But you always read the pain of a mother who has lost her daughter in her eyes. Her character is mirrored to that of the equally impressive playing Rockwell; initially he is a real bogeyman and we are all on Mildred’s side. The way in which McDonagh manages to turn those perspectives around is one of the strongest points of the scenario.

Incidentally, McDonagh not only knows how to get McDormand and Rockwell to top performances; the whole cast is excellent. In addition to McDormand, Rockwell and Harrelson, the stars include Caleb Landry Jones as the young, opportunistic advertising executive Red Welby, John Hawkes as Mildred’s bare-handed ex, Peter Dinklage as Mildred’s acquaintance James who has a crush on her, Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s teenage son Robbie, Clarke Peters as Deputy Police Chief Abercrombie and Abbie Cornish as Chief Willoughby’s wife. Characters that are all more complex than you would think at first glance, and therefore fit perfectly into the world created by McDonagh, which will certainly appeal to fans of the work of the Coen Brothers. Not only because of the presence of McDormand (Joel Coen’s wife and lead actress in many Coen films) and the score by Carter Burwell, but also because of the pitch-black humor, the tone, the sometimes bizarre use of violence and the razor-sharp screenplay that contains more than you would think at first glance.

‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ was one of the big winners at the Golden Globes; not only McDormand and Rockwell were awarded, McDonagh’s screenplay was also awarded. In addition, ‘Three Billboards’ was awarded Best Picture in the Drama category. Quite rightly so, because although the year has barely started, we already have one of the best films of 2018 with ‘Three Billboards’. A film that has both feet on the ground on the one hand, but on the other it encourages reflection, which makes you laugh just as hard as you cry and in which all the puzzle pieces fall into place perfectly.

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