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‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri’ review: Look forward in anger

This darkly comedic and moving revenge tale is a swansong to Frances McDormand’s skill

You’ve suffered domestic violence, your daughter has been raped and murdered and months later, law enforcement has made no headway. Imagine the seething, frothing anger inside this person. Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri bases an entire film around such a woman, capturing every last ounce of her emotion. Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) lives in a fictional town in Missouri where the local police seems to have given up on solving her daughter’s abduction and murder. Instead an officer boasts about torturing incarcerated African Americans, flings homophobic slurs around and enforces violence with shocking entitlement. The longer a crime is in the spotlight, the better its chances of being solved. So middle-aged Mildred, desperate for justice, rents out three billboards demanding answers from local police chief. This singling out of beloved Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) results in a local furore, including violent backlash from the incompetent and often moronic officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell).

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri
  • Director: Martin McDonagh
  • Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
  • Storyline: Months after her daughter’s unsolved murder, a woman rents three billboard to question local police, a move that polarises her small rural American town

Director and writer Martin McDonagh, who’s given us delicious black comedies like In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, brings his signature sarcastic sleight of hand to Three Billboards. His ability to inject unexpected humour is exceptional, eliciting uncomfortable giggles and worse outright bursts of laughter in pretty grim situations. The seemingly sinful jokes help elevate what would have been an otherwise oppressive preachy violence saga. Instead McDonagh’s focused storytelling keeps us glued wanting more. Seeing Mildred hurl vengeful Molotov cocktails at a police station or her unfailing resolve in the face of fear is goosebump-inducing.

McDormand is the reason McDonagh’s film soars. Her portrayal of Mildred’s piercing glares, commanding presence (calling an officer a f***head at the police station no less) and complete disregard for consequences raises imaginary air punches. McDormand becomes Mildred: unhinged and consumed, but jacked up on the adrenaline of rage. Equally resonating are her moments of vulnerability and doubt, but also her acerbic wit and sarcasm. If McDormand shines, her co-stars aren’t overshadowed. Harrelson has never played a more benign and affirming character whose mere voiceovers become impactful. Then there’s Rockwell with his brilliant portrayal of the hateful racist bigot Dixon. His transformation though is divisive, in that the realignment of his moral compass can never justify or erase his previous misgivings, as McDonagh wants it to.

As Mildred’s wife-beating ex-husband puts it, anger only begets anger. But in this case, it’s given us Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri, allowing angry women everywhere to speak out, shout and make things happen.

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Printable version | Feb 26, 2020 2:27:32 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/movies/three-billboards-outside-ebbing-missouri-look-forward-in-anger/article22838198.ece

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