Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
For someone who started their career as a playwright Martin McDonagh makes good movies.
The characters are complicated, the dialogue is sharp and honest and in the end everyone is transformed.
You might have seen McDonagh’s work before – he’s the brains behind the excellent movies In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths and with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri he delivers again.
Yes, the movie is dark, the plot drivers after all are rage, murder, barely suppressed rage and the deep south. Yes there is swearing – the dialogue is laced with words like n**ger and c*nt and there are beatings, but there is humor too.
The plot focuses on Mildred Hayes, (Frances McDormand) and she is pissed off. Pissed off that her brutal daughters rape and murder is still unsolved after seven months of investigation, pissed off with the fact her ex-husband is living with a pretty 19 year old and just pissed off in general.
To vent her rage against the police inactivity and fueled by grief and guilt, Mildred rents three dilapidated billboards just outside of her small Missouri town with these simple messages: “Raped while dying”, “Still no arrests?” and “How come, Chief Willoughby?”.
The stunt is immediately effective and it puts her at odds with much of the town aristocracy – in the form of the police, the church and the towns professional establishment.
Only her harassed son and the other outsiders — African-Americans, the harassed advertising salesman (Caleb Landry Jones) and James (Peter Dinklage), the town dwarf, seem to be on her side.
Mildred is unrelenting and uncompromising — she expresses in rage and violence the suppressed anger of everyone everywhere, drilling through the finger of a threatening dentist, kicking wayward teens, verbally eviscerating a priest and torching buildings in her desire for revenge.
The focus for her anger is Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) who isn’t a bad guy – he’s a guy doing the best with what he’s got. He’s a warm understanding human, funny and thoughtful.
The flash point for confrontation is Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a dumb, racist and violent cop, who gets some of the best lines. It’s worth noting that while Frances McDormand is the star of this movie, Rockwell gives a stunning performance as a racist redneck wringing sympathy, vulnerability and complexity from what could be a two dimensional character.
The movie manipulates you through its journey deftly, it starts as a one woman crusade against injustice, in which you expect the grief of Mildred to act like napalm and destroy everything around it, the environment, her relationships and the town indiscriminately, but it becomes something else.
The film isn’t about easy answers, or particularly about redemption – but the quality of the dialogue, the twists in the plot make this very un-Hollywood plot a winner.