Writer/director Martin McDonagh had already grasped the art of dark comedy with his debut film In Bruges. In his third and most breathtakingly brilliant film, Frances McDormand plays Mildred, a mother who lost her teenage daughter in a vicious murder. After seven months have passed and the police have still not found the culprit, she shakes the town to its core by putting up three billboards that calls out Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and the rest of the police department. Consequently, she builds a relationship with the advertising agency who helped get her billboards up, while the officers in the police station across the street bicker and complain about the distraught mother.
The picture is a breathtaking representation of grief and what comes with it. When we lose loved ones, we tend to counter in rage and even attempt to put guilt on others. Mildred, accusing the law enforcement for not taking enough action, doesn’t take any crap. Instead, she insults priests, kicks teenage hooligans in their groins, and drills holes into dentists’ fingers. She is acrimonious and angry, but for good reason. Even after her billboards go up, the town goes into a pandemonium of anger and the police continue to hoot about it, apart from Willoughby, who is genuinely apologetic that he hasn’t found her daughter’s killer.
McDonagh had Frances McDormand in his mind when he wrote the role of Mildred, so this film was clearly meant for her to steal the show. Her performance is stunningly dark and at times even outright hilarious, making this her best performance since Marge Gunderson in the darkly comic “Fargo” in 1996. Three Billboards has some of the best characters in film this year. In addition to McDormand, the racist, loud-mouthed Dixon, an officer who, to say the least, doesn’t appreciate Mildred’s complaints, is played by Sam Rockwell who knocks it out of the park making us hate him from his very first scene. Though, even Dixon has dark humor written all over him and he can be delightfully funny while still being an atrocious excuse of a human being.
Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri is surprisingly more hilarious than expected, while being incredibly dark and harrowing. It is not too distressing though and the wit seems to take over the film rather than the dismal theme of loss and remorse. Surprisingly, one of the most gratifying parts of the film is seeing Peter Dinklage as a lonesome man, who is head-over-heels for Mildred and her headstrong nature. He doesn’t have all that much screen time, but for the short amount of time he has, he nails it.
This Martin McDonagh masterwork has everything a dark comedy should have. All the performances are stellar, there are plenty of character arcs, the film digs deep into human nature, has a very fitting musical score, it is hysterical, has one of the best long tracking shots in years, and is a near perfect film. If this film does not receive any Oscar nominations, you may see three billboards outside your town about it.
Rated R for violence, language throughout, and some sexual references