Edition 28 December 2017, by James Luxford
Every year a front-runner emerges in the race for Oscar glory, and 2018 may just be the year of this brutal drama from the director of In Bruges. Frances McDormand plays a mother broken by the murder of her daughter, and angered by the authorities’ inability to find the culprit. In an act of both desperation and defiance, she calls out her town’s Chief of Police (Woody Harrelson) via three billboards questioning his abilities. The move makes her hated by the town, who see it as an unfair attack, and prompt spiteful actions from the Chief of Police’s second-in-command (Sam Rockwell).
The film’s greatest strength is its ability to balance rage with humour. It is undoubtedly an angry film, with McDormand’s mother feasibly standing in for any number of political or social injustices suffered in recent times. While the interspersed black comedy isn’t out of place, it does create a film that wavers tonally, making you laugh and cry in quick succession. Some tough scenes will also not be for every viewer, as director Martin McDonagh never shies away from the difficult subject matter his characters face. As with his previous films, he is more interested in character study than story progression, in how these people develop more than whether they achieve their goals. However, there is enough of a pay off in the brilliant third act to have a nice balance of both.
What makes this film so engrossing is the performances. McDormand stands at the centre of the story like a raging storm, in a fiercely emotional performance that is her best since her breakthrough in The Coen Brothers’ Fargo. On the other side of the law, Harrelson is as reliably wonderful as ever, giving an extra dimension to the problem while Rockwell is despicable as his colleague, incensed by the lack of respect he being shown, and so tries to illicit fear instead.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri feels like a film made for the volatile times we live in. The themes of giving a voice to the voiceless will strike a chord with anyone who has read the headlines in the last few years, but feels particularly pertinent for modern day Hollywood, where the neglect of powerful men is being brought to light. Like all of McDonagh’s films, this drama is a complicated journey, but one that you will be glad you took.