Dir” MARTIN MCDONAGH | United Kingdom / 110’ | cast: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage
A frustrated and grieving mother (Frances McDormand) antagonizes her local police force (including Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell) to call attention to the lack of progress in the search for her daughter’s killer,
Director/writer Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) delivers an unforgiving black comedy set in the Southern United States. Confrontation is rife, incendiary arguments erupt, nearly everyone resorts to violence, be it for political or personal reasons. Grudging forgiveness sometimes follows, but not necessarily as a matter of course. Frances McDormand paints the heroine Mildred as an unlovable tyrant, like the rest of the small-minded denizens of smalltime Ebbing. A divorcee, she has lost her teenage daughter, who was raped while dying near their home. After a month the terminally ill sheriff (Harrelson) has not come up with any suspects and the trail has gone cold, so Mildred pushes her own agenda forward, renting three billboards with a strong message accusing the sheriff of incompetence. This is not a particularly sensitive move but it’s an effective one, sending the townsfolk into quiet meltdown against the mother of three, as the much-liked Willoughby is dying of cancer. But Mildred’s vendetta knows no bounds and she finally takes her complaint further, leaving the DC Dixon (a strong comedy turn by Rockwell) with terrible injuries. Strangely enough, Dixon seems to learn his lesson and channels his energy into re-opening the case. Dixon and Mildred begin a friendship, but not on the lines the late sheriff would be approve of.
McDormand is brazenly brilliant as the hard-bitten Mildred. But she also has a short memory and forgets conveniently that she argued with her daughter on that fateful last evening, jokingly wishing that she would be raped for not following her advice. Race, gender, anger and forgiveness are the themes here, with all the characters wanting to be seen as the greatest victim and the most glorious winner at the same time. Since this never works out in reality, they all resort to casual violence to achieve their – sometimes futile – ends. The narrative is anger-driven rather than goal-oriented, and the fun is very much in the process rather than the solution: this is no whodunnit. THREE BILLBOARDS is very dark, shot through with brutal stabs of humour: DoP Ben Davis catches the mood with his stark, widescreen images. This is Trump country, and the Confederate Flag rules. God help America. AS
Martin McDonagh was born in London to Irish parents. He is a renowned playwright and filmmaker, and won an Academy Award for his debut short, Six Shooter (06). He subsequently directed In Bruges (08) and Seven Psychopaths (12), which played at the Festival and received the Midnight Madness People’s Choice Award. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (17) is his latest feature.
VENICE FILM FESTIVAL 2017 | IN COMPETITION