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MOVIE REVIEW: FTN reviews Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

January 12th, 2018 by Mark McCann Comments

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (15)
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson & Sam Rockwell
Running time: 1hr 55minsa

A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Director Martin McDonagh has a penchant for the blackly comic, based on his previous cinematic entries In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths. It was this dark flair that made me think I would not enjoy Three Billboards, because while its easy suspending disbelief for off-beat shenanigans with Hitmen or Screenwriters dragged into the Hollywood underworld, it struck me as more difficult a subject matter to entwine those tropes in the murder of a teenage girl.

Also attached was a monster-load of hype and the critics, I know for I am one, are oft keen to attach their own aesthetic sensibilities to the crowd-pleaser with derision, while hailing the obscure art piece as the second coming of *insert deity*. I thought based on early reviews, this would almost certainly be the latter. As always, I’m more than happy to be proved wrong.

The script here is full of stereotypes at first glance. Strong performances and perhaps the best nuance of McDonagh’s career make this some of the best character work in a fiction that this reviewer has seen in a while. Francis McDormand is as good as the gushing early reviews say as a righteously angry, bitter and flawed mother. What could have been a very one-sided crusade for justice over her daughter’s murder has the introspective to look back and bare some brutally honest layers of the human onion.

This extends to Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, both of whom in lesser hands could have been cartoonish foils. Instead we have some very tender, human and at times moving turns from the two actors. Whereas McDormand is lash-out venomous in her modus, Harrelson is reflective and gives a sympathetic, charismatic and at times charming performance. One of the best of his to date.

Rockwell has two hard acts to follow, yet manages to convince us that a horrible racist drunk is worth a second look in the redemption stakes. These characters are painted in grey; human and at times humanely delivered in a film that starts with anger, offers anger and righteous revenge as an American sacrament, yet builds to a slower more considered response. Optimism. Humanity. The reality that nothing is simple or obvious. The fact that it is blackly funny and pulls no politically correct punches so casually amid such heavy material is testament to how smart the scripting, how good the acting.

Yes, it’d be easy to wax lyrical about Three Billboards as high art, but truth is it has more in common with The Coens than it does McDonagh’s previous work. It’s a simple film, done well and McDonagh shows us that those subtle character touches he teased in previous efforts were the foundations for a richer texturing that he’d been working towards by increments.

There is no preaching in Three Billboards. No higher moral sanctimony. Simply life’s pain and problems, and the very ordinary folk who would undertake their solving, via often extraordinary performances.

4 out of 5 Nerds

I came here in a time machine from the 1980s. The time machine was called childhood. I'm getting back there at all costs! (I also live, love, write, lift & pet cats wherever I may find them.)