Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

In Bruges director Martin McDonagh brings his acerbic brand of dark comedy to his latest project, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a brash, unrepentant tale of a lone woman’s quest for justice

Film Review by Joseph Walsh | 16 Oct 2017
  • Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Film title: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage
Release date: 12 Jan
Certificate: 18

In a rage-fuelled performance, Frances McDormand plays Mildred, an acid-tongued mother seeking justice after her daughter is raped, murdered and burned. A year has passed since her death, and the local police, headed up by Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), are still no closer to solving the case. The lack of answers prompts Mildred to rent three disused billboards a stone’s throw from her house upon which she has written “Still No Arrests?”, “How Come, Chief Willoughby?”, and, finally, “Raped While Dying.”

Unsurprisingly, the police take issue with this public criticism, especially Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who is known for two things – his violence towards the local black community and his affection for his surrogate father-figure and boss, Willoughby.

McDonagh’s previous film, Seven Psychopaths, was a disappointing entry into his small oeuvre; the levels of nihilism it reached were ugly to watch. What mistakes he made with that film are more than made up for here, balancing the baroque bad language and violence with an unexpected tenderness as he uses the drama to meditate on themes of grief and forgiveness.

Rockwell and Harrelson give impressive performances, taking the plot in unexpected directions, but it is McDormand who seals the deal, pulling the humour, rage and heart of this compelling – if at times difficult-to-watch – drama together.

McDonagh’s dextrous blend of genres deserves praise too; throughout the film’s tone turns from comic violence to compelling drama. The writer-director prods, provokes and plays with our emotions, but with reason. However hard Three Billboards... is to watch at times, it is a film that lingers, keeping you wondering whether the characters will ever find peace.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the closing film at London Film Festival and is released by 20th Century Fox on 12 Jan 2018