Three Billboards: A Hopeful, Bitingly Black Dramedy
Review by Aaron Haughton
Besides having one of the longest titles, Martin McDonagh's Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one of the best films of the year. The story is pitch black, yet McDonagh and cast manage to find the humanity in even the most despicable of characters, making the fictional town of Ebbing feel all the more real. The film walks a fine tightrope between tragedy and comedy with flawless ease, jumping between sharp comedy and even sharper calamity and back again, never losing focus on the bigger picture and showing us different shades of our colorful characters along the way.
The film follows Mildred, played by Francis McDormand, in the wake of her daughter's brutal murder, as she rents out 3 billboards on Drinkwater Road to condemn the local police force, led by police chief Willoughby, played by Woody Harrelson, for failing to find the culprit. When Willoughby's second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing's law enforcement is only exacerbated.
Over the years, McDonagh has become a master at counterbalancing his dark narratives with a dose of humor. His craft has been fine tuned to new heights with Three Billboards. Everything is in full force with this film; the laughs land hard and strike at the right times, the characters aren't black and white, and there is no real villain. The narrative winds and twists organically unfold in unexpected ways. It's very very fun and very satisfying to watch.
The cast is absolutely stellar, and McDonagh's writing allows even the smallest role to have the greatest depth. The supporting characters are all fully realized and brought to life with force by John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges, Abbie Cornish, and Caleb Landry Jones. Even the smallest role gets their moment to shine, and no one disappoints. Francis McDormand and Sam Rockwell, however, do steal the show.
The story is never less than engrossing and is essentially a war between two people who are both to some degree in the right. A lot of tension and drama organically forms out of this situation. Though sprinkled with a large dose of humor, Mildred's emotion-driven quest is always at the center, keeping a tight reign on tone and the narrative focused.
The film is McDonagh's most tragic to date, but is so well tempered with the hope and humor that it never feels tiresome or emotionally draining. The last 5 minutes seem a little rudderless, but the ride is highly enjoyable, and the ending doesn't fall entirely flat. I would venture to say that this is McDonagh's finest film and would highly recommend it once it releases on November 10th.
Rating: 4.5 kicks to the cunt outta 5.
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