This is indeed a peculiar award season, dominated by the fraught state of geopolitical politics and the re-balancing that the #MeToo and #TimesUp campaigns are bringing about. There is also an absence of a clear front runner, with several films having the potential to achieve glory. One of these films is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, an intimate drama that finds itself reflecting the intense atmosphere far more than you feel the makers had expected. It is a frustrating, beguiling film, as tender and funny as it is coarse and unpleasant.
The three billboards of the title are the ones hired by Mildred Hayes to call out the local police force’s inability to find her daughter’s killer. The film explores the impact of her actions, born out of a desperation for justice, on the town as well as her broken family. What justice and closure can be achieved with a seemingly unsolvable crime?
When the film begins it is a tour de force of emotions, focusing in on one of the great performances of the year. At its best Three Billlboards manages to traverse from comedy to tragedy and back again, often in the same scene, occasionally mere lines of dialogue apart. McDonagh is a skilled writer, his years of writing for theatre meaning that there are some exceptionally well written scenes here, with a lot of creative swearing (turned into an art form here). McDonagh the director is less experienced and the direction here is mostly unshowy (apart from one very good tracking shot), with the director letting the dialogue and exceptional acting do the heavy lifting.
With Frances McDormand, McDonagh is gifted with an immense talent who puts in a career-defining performance. McDormand brings out the poetry of McDonagh’s script, twisting the words round and dominating every scene she is in. She is part of a central trio of performances elevated the film and hold the audience's interest. Woody Harrelson is a warm presence as Chief Willougby, an interesting foil to Mildred in her crusade for justice. He’s one of the most likeable on-screen cops we’ve had for a while, bringing an unexpected tenderness to this role. Sam Rockwell’s
My dilemma with Three Billboards comes in the film’s second half as the narrative slows and splinters, gravitating towards Rockwell’s
Maybe it is too much to ask this film to pull together all of the themes surrounding the 2018 award season. There probably isn’t a film that could achieve this. But Three Billboards Outside Ebbing,