Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri – review

Martin McDonaghs’ crime drama and black comedy is set in Ebbing Missouri, we see an agrieved and mourning mother taking action after the inaction of the local police department by putting up three billboards triggering a series of events, the film stars Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish and Kerry Condell.

Three Billboards is a bit of a controversial film to say the least and watching it, you understand why, quite a few people felt the film was undeserving of the awards it won because of its themes and portrayal of issues and admittedly, the film is a bit of a mixed bag. A pitch black comedy from McDonagh and arguably his darkest film to date, the writing inherently tries to bring humour and levity out of pretty dark and morbid themes which can be quite jarring as the story goes along.

You obviously sympathise with the plight of Mildred (Frances McDormand), a hurt and grieving mother but at the same time, she’s strong willed, never shows weakness and is a bit rough around the edges herself, this is a career high performance from McDormand and deservedly so. She really relishes in the dialogue and embodies her character perfectly, as does now acclaimed character actor Sam Rockwell who just ‘goes to town’ so to speak as police officer Dixon, one of the most dislike-able but complex characters in a drama like this I’ve seen in a while.

I think a major theme in the film is the complexity of people and how unexpected things can come about from unexpected places, no one in the film is perfect, far from it in fact and some people are seemingly awful to an almost cartoonish degree but still redeemable,  maybe even the supposedly racist and deadbeat cops in the story. It’s a difficult one with some edgy and charged dialogue that may cause offense to some as it seems to be used simply to play for laughs but in the context of the films story I understand why it was used.

The film is an engaging ride however with good pacing that hardly skips a beat, with good handling of the more dramatic moments as well, helmed by the great supporting cast, Woody Harrelson as chief Willoughby, playing a cop for what seems the 99th time in his career is again great and a highpoint of the film. And the dialogue/writing is a big credit to why the film is generally so praised, the dialogue is funny, quick and razor sharp as some of the characters are.

But at the same time witty banter and quips take away from more serious moments and from any sense of realism, making what would otherwise be a touching realistic drama feel like an over the top play, while some scenes in the story just feel too unrealistic no matter how small and close knit the town is. Three Billboards, is a very mixed bag, I struggle to say it’s a great film because of how un-seriously it takes itself at points but at the same time, the themes present are serious and real and some of the drama is well done and and not played for laughs. However the tonal inconsistency and the way scenes will reach for humour in some situations can ebb away at the dramas legitimacy in points and this certainly stopped me from really engaging fully.

That being said this is an irreverent, challenging film and I found it engaging to watch in a twisted, morally questionable way and whatever you think about the film, it’ll probably get a strong reaction out of you one way or the other.

6.5/10

. Very good performances overall

. Razor sharp dialogue, good writing

. Tonally imbalanced, might throw viewers off

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