“There ain’t no God and the whole world’s empty and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other.”
We are taught that grief and loss are dealt with in different, sometimes contrasting ways. The statement above highlights one – a loss of having a place in the world, with grief’s ability to drive a person from their space within it. The various forms of grief have huge effects on the world around us. “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” sees Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) dealing with the grief of her daughter’s murder in a particular way; by paying an advertising company to question the town’s local police and terrorising her neighbours in a desperate attempt to uncover the truth of her daughter’s fate. This grief would come to destroy many, in an attempt to heal one.
Set in the Midwest of the United States of America, the film follows Mildred as she seeks retribution for the unsolved murder of her daughter. As she sets out on a path filled with blame and anger for those she believes to be guilty, for the case failings and for the injustice her daughter’s death has received, she inevitably causes chaos in the small town of Ebbing.
Frances McDormand steals the show as the polarising protagonist that leaves the audience torn in unsurety between supporting her, or hating her. She encapsulates the human struggle and emotional complexity in a way that is not only refreshing, but also heartbreaking. She’s a strong female lead, one with more complexities than the usual female role possesses, creating a unique character who has all the traits of a role-model, yet issues and emotional baggage which make a vulnerable and lost woman. Frances McDormand makes this film, unbelievably she is better than her Oscar winning role in Fargo.
Add an incredible supporting role by Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon, a deeply troubled character that is filled with depth and anger and you have some of the best acting of the last 12 months. Officer Dixon is an alcoholic, a racist and a mamma’s boy that searches for acceptance within the police force. His badge and gun allow him to have the freedom he craves, yet without these tools he is fully aware of the fact that he is a man dealing with a severe amount of issues. Rockwell finds the perfect balance between tragedy and comedy that creates a character able to carry the film in his own way. Rockwell is the front-runner for supporting actor at this years Oscars and it is clear to see why.
Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) makes his return to directing after a 5-year hiatus. As expected, brilliant comedic timing meeting incredibly dark themes making Three Billboards arguably his best film to date, scooping four Golden Globes. This film tackles retribution in a refreshing way that challenges why we actually seek such a thing in the first place. Mildred has lost all sense of caring, she is on a one stop path to destruction and has no worry of making enemies or alienating the world around her. McDonagh’s script is near flawless, filled with twists and turns that make the viewing experience entertaining but quite challenging to watch. No character is easily judged, each with their own personal flaws and their merits. This leaves the viewer to decide between the good and the bad.
The landscape and the cinematography, mixed in with the soundtrack, adds a grittiness that sets the tone for the small, lost town. The Billboards are on a desolate road, unused since the building of a national highway nearby. The Billboards to be so openly used to question a dark subject matter, both surprise the viewer and encourages to think beyond the surface level of the issues surrounding this film.
As the film evolves it becomes clear that this isn’t a crime thriller, its a look at human nature and the development of these characters as they all live through the struggles that Mildred has created for them. The impact that the paid advertising on the three billboards outside Ebbing leads to the destruction and hurt of so many people, including Mildred herself.
“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is undeniably a standout film. It has some acting performances for the ages, a well-written script and just enough humour to make the dark subject matter re-watchable. That being said whilst I would highly recommend this film, there is a sense that there is just that something missing, preventing Three Billboards from breaking beyond that threshold of a “great” film. Whether that is the small gripes with the plot or the feeling that there is a real lack of fruition as the credits roll, I’m not sure. This will go down as a must-see film of 2018 and it definitely is, yet just like Mildred’s loss there is a sense of something lacking and its hard to pinpoint what that exactly is.
By John-Anthony Disotto
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is screening at Glasgow Film Theatre between the 15th of January – 1st of February. Anyone aged between 15 and 25 can get a free card from GFT that entitles them to £5.50 tickets to any standard screening.