Martin McDonagh’s third film might well be his best as Frances McDormand goes on a public mission to call attention to her daughter’s lingering unsolved murder.
After the death of her daughter Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) provokes local police by paying for three local giant billboards relaying a personal message. The sympathetic Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his thuggish officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) spring into action as Mildred won’t let anyone stand in her way in her search for justice.
This is the third and easily best film from writer-director Martin McDonagh after Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges; both very good films. As you would expect the script is sharp, witty, humorous, but is also an exploration of loss, grief and vengeance that takes many unexpected directions. This is a great film that deserves all the awards coming its way. There is a careful injection of funny moments into some of the darkest and most heart-breaking scenes you will ever see.
The beating heart of this film is the grieving mother on her quest for redemption, portrayed by McDormand on an acting tour de force. McDormand is the one to beat for the awards season, a single-minded approach where a small twitch of her face can say so much, her pain and determination is persistently palpable.
The spark for the film’s events is when Mildred pays to put her own message on three battered billboards on a road that nobody drives down. The billboards are a direct attack on the local police force that have failed to identify a suspect for her daughter’s rape and murder seven months previously. The film follows the police and the community’s reaction to these billboards and the following cascade of events in an almost Southern American Gothic approach.
McDormand has a warrior like approach with her bandanna and overalls, not put off by the sympathetic Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson in a career high performance whose personal circumstances affect his reaction to the billboard’s catalyst). Mildred will not even be dissuaded by her son’s objections, Robbie (Lucas Hedges), leading to a great confrontation with the local priest. The multiple objections only seek to enhance Mildred’s determination and ferocity.
The films finds empathy in all of its characters as the events lead to unexpected developments and arcs. This film glides in the murky grey area of grief and the personal emotive response it evokes. The underappreciated Sam Rockwell as a thuggish and racist police officer creates an unforgettable cinematic character.
It is going to be tough to find a film more deserving of the Best Picture Oscar. A beautifully shot, gripping character study of grief and vengeance carried by raw and immersive performances that find the funny and brutal response to the most primal pain.
Written by Lyndon Wells
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Written by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage
Three Billboards was released in UK cinemas January 12, 2018.