Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri: Laughter in dark circumstances

There is no such place as Ebbing, Missouri, regardless of how ripped straight out of current-day America it might be. Yet in Martin McDonagh’s latest film, the Midwest rarely feels as vibrant on film.

Potential audiences will want to approach this movie with caution as “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is one of the year’s most provocative, colorful films. It’s a divisive endeavor where characters are liable to get thrown out of a plate glass window as have deep, meaningful conversations.

“Three Billboards” follows the story of Mildred, a divorced mother whose daughter was raped and set on fire by an unknown assailant. Months after her death, a distraught yet fed up Mildred ponies up $5,000 to lease three billboards along a desolate road out of town chastising local police for failing to find her daughter’s killer.
Frances McDormand delivers one of the most outstanding performances of her career with “Three Billboards,” certainly the best since her Oscar-winning turn in 1996’s “Fargo.”

McDormand layers Mildred with a sly wit and a devil-may-care intensity, while not so subtly hiding deep emotional scars within. Her complex performance makes Mildred a character viewers can easily empathize with despite the exceedingly bold, radical decisions Mildred makes over the course of the film.

Veteran character actor Sam Rockwell has the most to play with slightly incompetent, mostly racist Officer Dixon and does not disappoint with an equally charismatic yet disturbing performance. His Dixon is the personification of the simple-minded law enforcement officer turned on its head, riddled with insecurity in spite of glimmers of potential. Rockwell’s natural charm prevents Dixon from becoming too unlikable and the actor’s gradual turn over the course of the film is textbook character acting.

Woody Harrelson also shines as the exceedingly likeable sheriff who may or may not have done enough on Mildred’s daughter’s case. In limited screen time, Harrelson propels the film forward with a metered, even-keeled performance that resonates throughout the entire two hours.
McDonagh also peppers the film with quality supporting performances from Peter Dinklage, Annie Cornish and Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges, who also plays a minor role in awards front-runner “Lady Bird.”

“Three Billboards” isn’t the most interesting of McDonagh’s films. That honor goes to the hyper violent, cynical comedy “Seven Psychopaths,” also starring Rockwell. Ironically in spite of its quirks, “Three Billboards” might be McDonagh’s most accessible film thanks to its sharp writing and bevvy of layered performances.
The film is expertly paced, shifting gears from high octane action to sombering melodrama with ease and always keeping audiences on their toes guessing what will come next.

Deserving of its R rating, “Three Billboards” is a brash, crude film that refuses to hold back at any point. McDonagh carefully crafts an enchanting, sadistic piece of cinema that some viewers might find excessive or offensive and yet struggle to turn away.

“Three Billboards” is a strong contender in any number of categories come awards season with a sure-fire nomination for Best Picture and McDormand for Best Actress. McDonagh could easily a pair of nominations for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay, while Harrelson and Rockwell each stand a chance to earn a Best Supporting Actor nod. It’s easily a movie that could take home five awards or none depending on how strongly voters feel.

Sometimes in spite of itself, “Three Billboards” is a film that demands to be seen no matter how off color or outlandish things get. British writer/director McDonagh colors the world of small Ebbing, Missouri with rich, interesting characters that compel audiences to watch just a little bit longer in spite of themselves.

Though it may be just a bridesmaid and never a bride, “Three Billboards” is a film audiences will be talking about for months to come and can’t miss piece of cinema in theaters near you.

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