A sensationally funny and affecting dark comedy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri arrived at Venice just as the festival was hitting a slump, and has reinvigorated it with a fiery passion. Martin McDonagh’s third feature is an immeasurable improvement on his sophomore effort Seven Psychopaths, and even tops his beloved debut In Bruges. Anchored by an acid sense of humour and a top-form Frances McDormand, this insightful study of collective guilt and individual forgiveness is also the year’s funniest film.
The billboards of the title are erected by McDormand’s Mildred Hayes, whose daughter was brutally murdered a year previous, and with no leads since then, she turns to public advertising to keep the case in the minds of the Ebbing police force. Gifted with cutting monologues and hilarious one-liners, all backed with real fury and tragedy, McDormand is never less than totally commanding in the kind of brilliant but difficult acting that should net her countless awards.
McDonagh’s electrifying script brings out the best in the rest of the cast too. Woody Harrelson is fabulous as Chief Willoughby, to whom the billboards are directly and damningly addressed, Sam Rockwell does his best work since Moon as a thuggish deputy, and Manchester by the Sea’s Lucas Hedges again proves his ability to hold his own against towering adult performances.
Occasionally, Three Billboards seems a little too pleased with itself, but with a greater sincerity and compassion for its characters than either of McDonagh’s previous films, this is nowhere near as grating as it might be. A perfectly downbeat ending provides the exact sort of unhappy non-closure that turns out to be the most logical and satisfying choice.
A film that you’d be willing to let go on forever, Three Billboards nevertheless quits while it is ahead, leaving all its characters in exactly the right place.
CAST: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges
DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
WRITER: Martin McDonagh
SYNOPSIS: After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby, the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon, an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.