- Colin Fraser
THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING
FOUR STARS Mildred shakes a beehive when she buys ad space to shame the local sherrif.
Starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell
COMEDY DRAMA #THREEBILLBOARDS
When Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) buys space on three derelict billboards just outside her home town of Ebbing, Missouri, no one, including Mildred, is completely ready for the storm it unleashes. Hers is a simple message - local police have failed to find the man who killed her daughter and she tries shaming them into action. Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) bears the brunt of her anger (although he has other things on his mind, a terminal disease for one), while his racist, redneck second in charge tries shaming her into submission (not effectively, given his propensity for violent, alcohol-fuelled stupidity).
So starts Martin McDonagh’s searing comedy-drama - albeit one rather light on belly-laughs given the story’s black frame of rape, murder, cancer and suicide - that strikes a deep chord. THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is immensely satisfying, and anyone familiar with McDonagh’s earlier work (IN BRUGES for one) will be familiar with the bravura performances and pin-sharp writing that define his films. Yet this has something his earlier work often lacks, which is a big, beating heart. He creates tangible sympathy for the plight of all his characters, and it’s one earned, genuine, not painted on as an afterthought. Even those in support, such as the put-upon ad-man or Mildred’s struggling son, resonate as defined people, not stock caricatures.
As pressure is applied and the events begin to spiral, townsfolk are shed in unexpected ways; those left behind are forced to face the truth of their actions. Some scenes work better than others, and there’s a sense that proceedings have run to long by the time we reach a less than satisfactory conclusion. It’s a minor quibble about one of the better films you’ll see in a while, one that serves terrific performances (Rockwell is a standout) and convinces that McDonagh is a talent to keep watching.