A lot has happened since Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri streaked onto cinema screens in early January. A bachelor brought his girlfriend home to meet a bunch of crazy rich Asians in Singapore (a.k.a. his family). Pierce Brosnan’s questionable vocal talents resurfaced once more for Mamma Mia: Here We Go Again!. Although both of these movies were big, splashy hits at the box office, Three Billboards made waves in its own, indefatigable way.
Writer-director Martin McDonagh, already a successful playwright and theatre director with productions such as Hangmen and The Lieutenant of Inishmore recently in the West End, has previously enjoyed great success with cult comedy favourites In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. Both of these exhibited his trademark dark and twisted humour. He also nabbed an Oscar for his short feature Six Shooter, the first film he wrote and directed. With Three Billboards, however, he has truly broken into the mainstream consciousness. The film garnered (literally) hundreds of award nominations. This culminated in seven Academy Award nominations, including Best Picture and Best Original Screenplay, and two Oscar conversions for Best Actress Frances McDormand and Best Supporting Actor Sam Rockwell.
In the small town of Ebbing, Missouri, grieving mother Mildred Hayes rents out three billboards in order to voice her displeasure with local law enforcement over the lack of developments in the case concerning her murdered daughter. Ebbing, it turns out, is filled to the hilt with fully-realised and beautifully nuanced weirdos.
The central trio of McDormand as Hayes, and previous McDonagh collaborators Rockwell and Woody Harrelson as Chief Willoughby and Officer Dixon, particularly shine. Indeed, it was rather unfortunate for Harrelson throughout awards season that he shared the screen so much with his competitor: the 2018 Oscars was the first time in 27 years that one film received two nominations in the Best Supporting Actor category. (Last time it was 1991’s Bugsy.) Their chalk-and-cheese partnership, however, certainly enhanced both their performances and the film, with the sympathetic but weak Willoughby working in close proximity with the ignorant, violent and racist Dixon.
Here is where Three Billboards has also faced controversy from some quarters, with critics and viewers arguing that Dixon gets a chance at redemption at the film’s end, which smacks of being tone-deaf when a character can go unpunished for such unpleasant views – particularly considering the film’s setting of Missouri. This is a valid criticism.
An alternative reading of the film’s final few scenes, though, could be one of damnation for both Hayes and Dixon as they team up for their bizarre, murderous road trip, having been roundly rejected by the town on which they have both wreaked such violent havoc. McDonagh’s heightened screenplay, as with his previous films, also stretches his characters and the action, however deftly and smoothly, far beyond the realms of acceptable and appropriate behaviour. His satire is bleak and savage and, although certainly inspired by the darker impulses of humanity, perhaps not intended to serve as a template for it.
McDormand (et al.)
Formidable Frances McDormand turns in a universally praised and visceral performance as Mildred Hayes, and also represents the lesser-seen filmic demographic of a working-class mother. (Her boiler suit and headscarf combo, courtesy of designer Melissa Toth, is surely destined to take its place in the canon of iconic cinematic costume.) With such a fiery resolve and no-bullshit attitude imbued in Hayes by McDormand, her various outrageous actions, such as kicking a child in the crotch and drilling a hole in her dentist’s thumb, become not only believable but also somehow admirable.
Most of the rest of the cast of Three Billboards are also exceptional and exceptionally cast, from Red (Caleb Landry Jones) and Pamela (Kerry Condon), blandly working in the (until now) uneventful advertising offices, to Hayes’ son Robbie (Lucas Hedges), frustrated by his mother’s obsession with the past – but also a real chip off the old block – and his father Charlie (John Hawkes), possibly the largest hypocrite of the lot with his rage issues and stupidly young (and stupid) girlfriend.
In the traditional McDonagh vein, this blistering screenplay shocks plenty with its actions, violence and foul language, which is part of its weird charm. This perfect crescendo of craziness all ends up seeming somehow plausible, given the circumstances, and is all – vitally important for its impact – played deadly seriously. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a masterclass in balancing the unbalanced, hinging the unhinged with well-thought-through character development and storylines. This is not something particularly glamorous, or anything that you would necessarily notice immediately – but, by heck, there’d be a gaping hole – as subtle as an angry, red billboard – without it!
It seems only fitting that I ask, as a conclusion, “Why don’t you put that on your Good Morning Missouri fucking wake up broadcast, bitch?” Quite.
N.B. As our site is UK based, we work off the selection of films released in cinemas in the UK in 2018.
So to recap, here’s our Top 20 to 7…
7th – THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Stay tuned each and every day for the remainder of the year to read more on our Top 10 films of 2018!