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Written, co-produced, and directed by one of the most esteemed playwrights in Ireland (the play, THE BEAUTY QUEEN OF LEENAN) Martin McDonagh, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI arrives with all the hype after winning this year’s Toronto International Film Festival prestigious People’s Choice (Most Popular) Film Award. This is a film that can be enjoyed by both the commercial audience and critics alike. It is smart, funny (darkly so), suspenseful and brilliantly acted by all concerned.
Nine months after her daughter is raped and murdered, a woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) is totally frustrated that there has been no progress with the investigation led by the local police chief, Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). Using the last of her hard earned money, she leases three billboards from Red (Caleb Landry Jones) on the edge of her Missouri town to condemn the local police force for failing to find the culprit. This angers the sheriff and one of his top officers, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a red-neck racist mamma’s boy, with a temper to suit his prejudice. Mildred is one angry, foul mouthed woman who would kick any man in the nuts if they comes across her the wrong way. The billboards gradually lead from one bad incident to another resulting in the suicide of Police Chief Bill Willoughby. This infuriates Jason who beats Red up, ending up in Red being in hospital and himself fired from the force.
Despite the wicked humour, McDonagh’s script is smart enough never to forget the main issue at hand – the desperation of a mother to see justice done. The irony though, is that Mildred is not that good a mother who on the eventful night of the rape, had an argument with the daughter that led her to walking alone and abducted. Those like myself who love irony, will see it rearing its head again when the racist Jason coming up as the one with the best clue as to the killer.
As one would imagine after the film passes its half way mark, it is not the identity of the killer that is important. It is the nature of people – how people change, and in this film for the better. The chief who kills himself writes letters to Mildred and Jason that would change them. This is the reason audiences would favour the film. It has heart, sympathy despite the dark humour and foul language – more irony here (the film with the most foul language has the biggest heart.)
One might argue as to the necessity of the abusive language used in the film. To McDonagh’s defence, thee are people in the world that utter the ‘f’ word in every sentence. Mildred happens to be one of them.
McDonagh develops excellent characterizations. The best is the lead, Mildred. Mildred has so fierce and powerful a personality that one is never sure what she will do, thus becoming an exciting presence in every scene she is in. Sam Rockwell achieves marvellous results with his complex character which might win him an oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. McDonagh’s film’s ending is also impressive. It is a 4 way open ended non-Hollywood ending, which is the smartest conclusion I have seen in a film this year.