“Anger Begets Greater Anger”.
What is it? A black-comedy drama. But my fear would be that with such an ‘art-house’ title, it’s going to put a lot of people off… (“I saw ‘Paint Drying in Jackson, Mississippi‘, and that was dull”!). But it really really shouldn’t. FOR THIS IS A GEM OF A MOVIE… and so, so entertaining that two hours just sped by.
Frances McDormand (“Hail Caesar“, “Fargo”) plays a mother – Mildred Hayes – in pain. Her daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) has been raped, set alight and murdered (so clearly LOL territory!) After ten months and no culprit arrested, she takes things into her own hands by renting the three billboards in question and posting a message to the local police chief, Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, “War for the Planet of the Apes“).
But the popular Chief Willoughby has his own problems, setting many in the town on a collision course with the feisty Mildred as tempers flare. Stoking the flames is the racist, unstable and unpredictable Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell, “Moon”). The billboard advertiser Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones, “Get Out“) is uncomfortably caught in the middle of the battle.
In terms of the story, nothing in this film goes in the direction you expect. Willoughby’s reaction to the crisis is extraordinary… in a good way. Dixon’s reaction is also extraordinary for different reasons! Red herrings are scattered throughout the script to further set you off balance.
The film reminded me greatly of “Manchester By The Sea“, and not just because Lucas Hedges (as Mildred’s grieving and uncomfortable son) is again playing a very similar role. There is gut-wrenching drama, but diffused in the blink-of-an-eye by laugh-out-loud dialogue. Whereas “Manchester” could perhaps be described as a drama with black comedy, “Three Billboards” is probably better described as a black comedy with drama. But the comedy is dark, oh, so very dark! Some of the lines are so outrageous (both in terms of language used – very extreme – and the racial/homophobic nature of it) that you are sometimes uncertain whether you should be laughing at all. But it’s been brilliantly balanced and orchestrated.
As I commented in “Battle of the Sexes” the Screen Actors Guild Award for “Best Ensemble Cast” is one of my favourite categories of award, and I thought that film should have been nominated (it wasn’t)! But the ensemble cast in “Three Billboards” is another great example, and this one IS nominated! (Hoorah!)
For this whole town just LIVES AND BREATHES, thanks to the combined efforts of the cast: as well as the lead names, the cast includes Peter Dinklage (“Game of Thrones”) as a diminutive used car salesman; Caleb Landry Jones as Red Welby; Zeljko Ivanek as the police desk sergeant; Amanda Warren (“mother!“) as Mildred’s put-upon co-worker and (particularly) Sandy Martin as Dixon’s wizened and cranky old mother. All are fed with great lines and scenes to bring the story alive.
At the helm is writer/director (and London-born!) Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”, “Seven Psychopaths”) and he delivers genius. I recently cruelly made fun of the writers of the awful “Pitch Perfect 3” for not coming up with any sort of viable plot. Here I am at the other extreme, in awe of how someone can sit down with a blank piece of paper and come out with this story, these characters and this dialogue. It would be foolish so early in the season to predict the Oscars, but here must be a great candidate for Original Screenplay.
Elsewhere I would see Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson both as Oscar nominees for Best Actress/Actor and Sam Rockwell is surely a shoe-in for a Best Supporting Actor nomination for this…. I wonder what odds I can get for a win? Jason Dixon (is this perhaps a pun because he always keeps crossing “the line”?!) will I think be one of the most memorable characters for me in the cinema this year: a character you can despise, pity and even strangely admire at stages throughout the two hours. Something that Rockwell balances with consummate skill.
In terms of my one criticism, the script (in my opinion) rather over-eggs the pudding in the last ten minutes, stepping over into actions I didn’t find realistic. It was a nice ending when it came, but not one I felt invested in. So I’m going to put my (rarely used) ‘5-Fad’ back in my pocket, and instead rate this one just a tad lower. But regardless of that, ignore the title and GO AND SEE THIS ONE!
(Just a final note for those severely affected by the subject matter: while there is some significant violence in the film, the rape is not shown – i.e. there are no “flashback” scenes, apart from some – very brief – corpse photos in a folder Willoughby looks through).
Fad Rating: FFFFf.
Note: this is the red band trailer… contains very strong language.