[Film Review] Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017)

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Title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Year: 2017
Country: USA, UK
Language: English
Genre: Crime, Drama
Director/Writer: Martin McDonagh
Music: Carter Burwell
Cinematography: Ben Davis
Cast:
Frances McDormand
Sam Rockwell
Woody Harrleson
Caleb Landry Jones
Abbie Cornish
Lucas Hedges
John Hawkes
Peter Dinklage
Sandy Martin
Zeljko Ivanek
Clarke Peters
Brendan Sexton III
Samara Weaving
Darrell Britt-Gibson
Amanda Warren
Kerry Condon
Kathryn Newton
Nick Searcy
Rating: 8.2/10

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British filmmaker Martin McDonagh’s third feature, TBOEM whisks audience off to an American whistle stop of an unspecified time, possibly in the 90s, since the last client of the titular billboards was from 1986 until our protagonist, a grief-driven Mildred Hayes (McDormand), rents them with texts “Raped while dying”, “And Still No Arrests?”, and “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” painted in crimson red, as a vehement remonstrance to the slow-in-progress investigation of her murdered 20-year-old daughter Angela (Newton).

The recipient Police Chief Willoughby (Harrelson, the real top-form supporting player here to spew blood and blow heads), on the other hand, is ailed by the impending mortality in the form of cancer, who is not a slouch professionally speaking, on the contrary, he is beloved by the populace, and expresses his resolution to track down the murderer, unfortunately Angela’s case is in paucity of both evidence and witness, teetering on the edge of becoming a cold one, and when he is unable to carry on the investigation, the baton is taken up by Jason Dixon (Rockwell), a racist cop who undergoes a major redemptive turnabout thanks to a letter written by Willoughby.

In this bifurcating narrative, one centers on Mildred’s militant reactions in the face of the inconsolable bereavement, the ramifications of her contentious advertisement, which bear on the tension between her and her son Robbie (Hedges), ex-husband Charlie (Hawkes, exuding a piercing layer of panache against a formidable McDormand). Scourged by guilt, anguish and grievance, Ms. McDormand reincarnates herself with a tour-de-force seethed with belligerence and compassion, and these two facets’ dichotomous incongruence is ambidextrously sublimed into a completely believable persona, a woman who is troublingly reckless, deeply mired in her personal crisis, yet, spurns any throwaway commiserations and homily with razor-sharp astuteness and holds onto the flickering hope of justice in a heartbroken hankering. Oscar No. 2 beckons for this hard-nosed leading lady, a no-bullshitting force of character that quite swims with the topical tide of women’s ME TOO movement.

Jason’s plot is in no way less salient than Mildred (I will defend that he is a co-leading role up to my deathbed), but this less pathbreaking male-white-trash-goes-good thread feels self-pleasing in the milieu albeit Rockwell nails the character to the hilt with his indissoluble commitment, Jason’s transmogrification is thematically satisfactory (although his closeted homosexuality doesn’t get a bigger canvas to play betrays the film’s conservative-pampering disposition, a wasted opportunity for the up-and-coming Caleb Landry Jones as the unbelievably congenial Red Welby, the manager in the advertise company who is unwarrantedly subjected to Jason’s heinous physical abuse, the latter’s underlying sexual frustration is left only faintly hinted), it almost renders its contrived sensation (Jason obliviously reading the letter when Mildred tossing Molotov cocktails to the police station where he is) extraneous, because we need someone to track down the killer so badly.

Therefore, in the end of the day, it is Martin McDonagh’s cracking facility of unorthodox storytelling that becomes the linchpin in luring a plethora of admirers (this reviewer included), his script flouts conventionalism (yes, pesky kids do need a good kicking!), larded with eccentricity and humor, often when one is least expected (Charlie’s 19-year-old new girlfriend Penelope is a hoot, of course, in second-guessing, it is a common tack to find excuse for men in those May-December pairings), and tones down violence but ups his antes in laying bare the complex tie-ins throbbing under the bracket of humanity and morality, warts and all. The truly astonishing but also whip-smart ploy is the open-ended coda, just when we think a climax is in the offing, the film brings down its curtain roundly, what else can top that? As either outcome of Mildred and Jason’s vigilante act will look less impactful in the aftermath, a substantial closure may or may not attainable, life can be as misty as the film’s opening shots, the cardinal message is that both have found the right path to move on, one has to hand it to Martin McDonagh for its resultant brimming gratification left in its spectator’s mind.

referential point: Martin McDonagh’s IN BRUGES (2008, 8.1/10).

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