Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges creator Martin McDonagh brings another classic dark comedy with Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. Criminally underrated with his previous efforts, I hope with Three Billboards it will get McDonagh the recognition he so deserves. His characters are always dynamic and complicated and have been played by truly talented casts. Three Billboards features the talents of Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell who elevate an already stellar story into award worthy cinema that is equal parts hilarious and at times uncomfortably brutal and sad.
McDonagh’s brilliance lies in his ability to balance, whether it’s a tonal balance or character balance of bad and good, he manages a sort of Coen Brothers-esque tango of extreme violence, dark, demented humor and characters that are unstable at best and murderous at worst. He manages to make racist cops likeable, protective mothers highly petulant, lonely kids seem to be the real grownups, and he has no problem turning everything upside down and watching what these people do.
Often times his characters react to difficult situations in the worst possible ways which can either land on the side of comedy, drama, or some weird amalgam of both. In that area you begin to question your morality and how in the world you can laugh at something so dark. You may question it, McDonagh seems to dwell in this area in a giddy, humorist way even when the topic is something as delicate as suicide. He’s nuts and he’s okay with it. With his films it feels as if he’s luring us as the audience over into his world of demented people and visceral storytelling and when we like it and are shocked by that fact, he knows he’s won.
Frances McDormand commands the screen as a wanting mother whose desire for justice for her murdered daughter is not being met. She decides a kick in the ass of the local law enforcement is the best means of getting results. Purchasing three billboards, she calls out the local sheriff and his lack of answers about the death of her only daughter. This is a story of bold, stubborn small town people who feel they have nothing to lose and because of this little thought before action takes place. This is very much a batter up situation without any warmup. Woody Harrelson is equally charismatic as the sheriff who at times shows complete disinterest and then manages sincere moments of being lost despite his best efforts. The back and forth between the sheriff and the despondent mother are simultaneously heartbreaking, infuriating, and with his mastery of balance, a sense of levity despite such sadness. Sam Rockwell is a dimwitted, excitable, presumably racist deputy who not only doesn’t understand the relationship between this mother and his sheriff he seems to have little interest in trying to comprehend it. He wants to feel in charge and beat anyone who scoffs at the thought. Despite being the black eye or stye of this small town, his eventual turning point directs him into a place of forgiveness and healing.
From outstanding writing to beautiful cinematography and all of the inbetween of characters and their actors, Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is nothing short of classic Americana cinema that is worthy of notice and heaps of praise. A simple enough premise catapults into a place of such extremes on both sides of good and evil that by the end, any catharsis however minimal is a welcomed sigh of relief. These are convoluted characters in dire situations that would weaken the best of us but for these people it only propels them harder and faster into their destinies whether it’s prison, death, or some area of gray where answers are scarce and happiness fleeting. This is for those with a sense of humor about the darkest of human actions and if you can laugh at these moments, definitely give this film a chance.
Rated R For: violence, language throughout, and some sexual references
Runtime: 115 minutes
Genre: Comedy, Crime, Drama
After Credits Scene: No
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish
Directed By: Martin McDonagh
Out of 5 Nerdskulls
Story: 5/ Acting: 5/ Directing: 5/ Visuals: 4
OVERALL: 5 Nerdskulls
Buy to Own: Yes
Check out the trailer below:
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