Three Billboards Outside Missouri: Black Bleak Comedy
Three Billboards Outside Missouri is the latest film from Director Martin McDonagh of In Bruges (2008) and Seven Psychopaths (2012) fame. Set in Ebbing Missouri, it follows the story of a woman named Mildred Hayes, played by Frances McDormand (Fargo ,1996), whom, after months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, decides to take a stand and paints three signs with controversial messages directed at the Chief of Police (played by Woody Harrelson). When his second in command, Officer Dixon (played by Sam Rockwell), a blowhard with a violent streak, gets involved, he and Mildred square off. Three Billboards is a sharp, hysterical look at a bunch of miserable people living in a community. It’s unpredictable, has a dark tinge, and is a Black Comedy of the highest order.
Three Billboards is also a farce. The film is heavy, but it is also quite hilarious at the same time. If you’ve seen McDonagh’s other two films, then you know what to expect out of this one. The main characters are in miserable situations, and a lot of foul language is being thrown about. McDonagh’s script is full of dialogue that feels so natural and yet so shameless it’s hilarious, and helps to keep the film flowing. Characters throw insults and slurs at each other - “Why don’t you put that on your Good Morning Missouri f-ing wake up broadcast, b-?”. It features an absolute corker of a script.
The performances in Three Billboards, from start to finish, are absolute aces, too. This is an actor's movie, through and through. As Mildred, Frances McDormand is abrasive, sarcastic, and all around acts unpleasant with reason. Hers is an absolutely brilliant performance. Sam Rockwell almost steals the show, as a crazy almost unhinged racist policeman, who goes through some serious character development throughout the film. He’s throwing people out of the window, listening to music on his headphones, and generally ignoring his professional responsibilities. Rockwell’s and McDormand’s characters’ stories almost feel like separate tales at times, eventually meeting up by the end of the film. Harrelson, as Chief Willoughby, helps to bring a lot of normality. His character suffers from a lot, but Harrelson plays the role almost completely straight, and the film is better for it.
The rest of the supporting cast comes in and out, as the plot requires: John Hawkes is Mildred’s stubborn ex-husband; Peter Dinklage is a friend who fakes a relationship with McDormand to get her out of a tight spot; and Lucas Hedges is her son, Robbie, with whom she has a “loving” relationship with. All these characters add to the overall sense of community in the film.
The cinematography is very well-lit and has a feeling of isolationism. Carter Burwell’s guitar based score is also important to the feel of the film. It sounds sad, but given the miserable situations in the film, it fits extremely well. McDonagh’s own direction shouldn’t be taken for granted either. The way he handles the actors and the setting is something I appreciate.
Come January, Three Billboards Outside Missouri is likely to receive a lot of Oscar nominations, and most of them will be well deserved. If any film this year deserves an Oscar for Best Original Screenplay, it’s Three Billboards. It’s a brilliant Black Comedy farce with some superb acting performances. It may not be for everyone, especially given the language, but I enjoyed it immensely, and it’s one of the year's best.
Playing in Hanover at the Nugget, Monday thru Friday at 4:10 and 6:40, and Saturday and Sunday at 1:30, 4:10, and 6:40.