THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI
Fox Searchlight Pictures
Director: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Zeljko Ivanek
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 11/1/17
Opens: November 10, 2017
Many people who live in small towns hold that they would not feel safe in big cities. This is true especially now when there are terrorist attacks in Boston and New York and shootings by a lunatic in Las Vegas. But small towns where everybody knows your name are far from safe harbors from criminal violence. You need only take in writer-director Martin McDonagh’s “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.” Donagh has previously written and directed such offbeat fare as “Seven Psychopaths” about a struggling screenwriter embroiled in the L.A. underworld when his friends kidnap a gangster’s Shih Tzu.
“Three Billboards” is one of the few movies this year that could have audiences thinking that you absolutely do not know what’s going to happen next. Its unpredictability is one of its prime draws, but even more impressive are the performances of Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, the former in the role of Mildred, who makes no bones about giving her opinions loud and clear, and Rockwell, as Dixon, a racist cop who does not actively seek redemption until conversion comes his way.
Mixing mordant wit with deadly violence, “Three Billboards” finds Mildred (Frances McDormand), owner of a souvenir gift store, grieving for the past seven months from the rape and death of her daughter. Her determination to find the killer despite police incompetence gains traction from her guilt in thinking that she might have prevented the crime from taking place. She pays Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) in the local advertising agency to paste huge signs on three billboards accusing Ebbing’s police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) of dragging his feet, notwithstanding the man’s diagnosis of terminal pancreatic cancer. Dixon, who is serving under chief Willoughby, is concerned, however, though his comeuppance for racism by a newly assigned Black sheriff Abercrombie (Clarke Peters) and by Mildred herself is somewhere down the road. He determines to help Mildred find the rapist-killer, but in the process has no problem throwing one man whose actions he despises through a window while soon thereafter suffering a grievous injury.
Despite the star presence of Ms. McDormand, this is an ensemble piece. Martin McDonagh allows quite a few characters to deliver monologues, statements full of rage and indignation at the injustice found in this world. The speech that hits home as the highlight of the film involves Mildred’s take-down of the local priest, who is a member of an organization that has looked the other way when people in the fold are accused of abusing choir boys. In her view, if you’re a member of an organization committing wrongdoings, it does not matter if you have directly been criminals—just as whatever evil gangs in L.A., the Crips and the Bloods commit indicts all of its members and not just the particular ones committing criminal acts.
If you’ve seen the Coen brothers’ “Fargo” (1996) with its exploration of bunging police work and the performance of Frances McDormand as a pregnant Marge Gunderson will be aware of the treat that awaits.
Rated R. 115 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – B+
Acting – A-
Technical – B+
Overall – B+