So rare is a story built not only of an original idea albeit based on the memory of an actual event, but Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is that of true craftsmanship. This film captures something real and something felt; it is human in ways a film can only hope. It’s story telling at it’s best.
Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) is a story of heartache and loss of a child. After a year of having buried her daughter, Mildred still has no answers and the Police seem to have given up. So taking matters into her own hands she purchases the lease of three billboards on the backstreets near her home to send a message to the Police. Quicker than the Police responded to the murder and rape of Mildred’s daughter, the Police jump to action to have the billboards taken down.
Mildred faces some backlash and confrontation surrounding the billboards and the possible motivation behind the suicide of a police officer. But the least expecting person to help Mildred changes his ways and comes to her aid.
You go on a journey with Mildred and question what you would do in a situation like hers. So few in the world would ever know what it is to feel the pain of having to bury their own child. On top of that, be left for a much younger lover. It’s these things that connect you with Mildred. But she then goes many steps too far in bringing her daughter justice, steps that any law-abiding citizen would never even question let alone act on. However when Mildred burns down the police station or kicks some teenagers in the groin, you can’t help but feel just maybe her actions are justified.
Director Martin McDonagh manages to navigate this dramatic story with a dark humour that compliments each other. This is a skill so few are able to make-work on the screen. Helped no doubt with the stellar performances of Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. The script from McDonagh is clever, it delivers some creative lines and a whole lot of cross stories each adding that little bit to the next story line. McDonagh’s humour shines through bringing a dark humour to the scenes ever so subtly. With that brings a level of humanity or normality that is relatable without taking away from the subject matter.
Frances McDormand (Fargo, Almost Famous, Moonrise Kingdom) who plays Mildred seems to play this character with ease. Compared to her usual characters, her quirk and wit is dumbed down and all her emotion is internalised. Despite talking to a deer and her slippers as if they could understand her is a one off in her otherwise internalised performance. These particular scenes with the deer and her slippers are a small glimpse into her thoughts lost in a Mother vs The World battle. She captures a single mother with teenagers trying her hardest while maintaining some sort of life. While her actions are hard to connect with, her character as a whole feels like someone you already know.
Alongside McDormand is Sam Rockwell as Dixon (Seven Psycopaths, The Way Way Back, Iron Man 2). Rockwell plays a hopeless Police Officer who dreams of becoming a Detective. He is hot blooded and has some father issues but in the end has a big heart. Rockwell dumbs down the character but has the most arc of the entire cast. He battles with himself, his family and his job to decide what is best and what is and was wrong. His usual quick wit and sarcastic humour isn’t lost and breezes through the scenes making his the most memorable.
Based around a horrific event there is a town full of quirk and wonder that is almost just out of the reach of possibility. But it’s these traits that make this film watchable. It’s clever; the script doesn’t pretend to assume anything. It plays out all the scenarios and lets it talk for itself as it flows from one story to the next. It’s a simple idea that manages to tell this story that is larger than itself.
Overall there are three amazing elements that make this work so well. Not only does Writer and Director Martin McDonagh have the ability to transform an idea from paper to the screen; a talent that is a once in a lifetime find. Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell were born for these roles and deliver stellar performances. They seem to understand not only what it is they are performing, but exactly whom these people they are portraying.
Review by Jay Cook.
Three Billboards is playing in theatres around Australia.