Film review: ‘THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING MISSOURI’, by Nick Gardener from ‘Built For Speed’

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri from In Bruges writer/ director Martin McDonagh is a southern-fried story of grief, vengeance and redemption that takes a seemingly familiar tale and adds layers, textures and plot twists for a potent, moving and at times shocking drama.

In a guaranteed Oscar-buzz performance, Frances McDormand plays a grieving mother Mildred Hayes who’s daughter was brutally raped and murdered several months earlier not far from her home in the small Missouri town of Ebbing. Despondent at local Sherriff Willoughby’s (Woody Harrelson) failure to catch the killer, the flinty Mildred provokes the police department by renting three billboards and posting messages criticising the sheriff for not bringing anyone to justice for the crime. This proves the catalyst for series of tragic often violent events that permanently alter several Ebbing residents’ lives.

This film is a slightly odd beast mixing confronting drama with oddball humour in a way that makes it a little hard to warm to at first. Some of the acerbic humour feels forced and a little too strategically placed making us aware of a scriptwriter behind the words. As it progresses, though, the quirks of this unusual world begin to make more sense and the humour and drama jar less. Once it hits full stride, the film transforms into a tense, provocative and at times very violent story of damaged people looking for justice – not always through methods a civilised society would condone.

As Mildred, Frances McDormand is a compelling yet contradictory figure, sad and sympathetic on one hand but also spiteful and even sadistically vengeful. Depicting her in this way could have backfired and a lesser actor could have undone the film by making her entirely dislikeable. Fortunately, McDormand gives Mildred pathos through a nuanced performance in which heartbreaking fissures of emotion occasionally open across her stern embittered face. Equally good is Sam Rockwell as the detestable, violent red neck deputy who’s forced to confront his true nature. Woody Harrelson, who’s forged a latter-day career playing hard-assed yet wryly humorous cops, commands the screen whenever he appears.

Moody cinematography from Ben Davis who has lensed many of the Marvel superhero films as well as a soundtrack full of lilting country folk music give Three Billboards an intoxicating atmosphere.

This may not be too all tastes but Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri reassures most viewers that Hollywood can still produce a potent drama that doesn’t rely on pummelling audience eyeballs with CGI.

Nick’s rating: ****

Genre: Drama.

Classification: MA15+.

Director(s): Martin McDonagh.

Release date: 1st Jan 2017.

Running time: 115 mins.

Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM.  Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast.

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