THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI Review
Anger begets anger.
Martin McDonagh's latest film, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is about the ripple effect of tragedy and the how the path to peace is never clear nor may it not be the correct choice. Or if it is, it never tells the watcher that in a preaching manner. As the film unfolds larger and larger, the audience is given the choice to agree or disagree with the actions taken. Does violence have a rightful spot in the true humanity of ourselves? Are we truly supposed to swallow tragedy slowly and not raise a hand? Are you to judge those who do or don't? All of this is put before the viewer in a character driven tragedy that does not tip its hand even on the closing scene. We are left with our own feelings to reckon with.
At the center of this rippling circle, ever stretching outward, is Frances McDormand's Mildred, who suffered the loss of a child in the worst way imaginable. This role may be her best since FARGO and quite honestly, it probably surpasses it. She has to play every spectrum of guilt, sadness, and anger while still pushing forward even as she knows the path is crooked. Even a splash of hope is called for. To say that Sam Rockwell plays opposite her is accurate and inaccurate but his character of Dixon leaves the largest impact on the films geography behind McDormand's. It reminded me a bit towards his performance in THE ASSASSINATION OF JESSE JAMES BY THE COWARD ROBERT FORD. There is a transformation here that starts as a somewhat familiar screen present Rockwell then goes layers and layers deeper into an emotional well all displayed in minor movements physically and told through the eyes. If both McDormand and Rockewell don't end the award season with some sort of recognition would be shocking. Quietly making a mark is Woody Harrelson as well. Harrelson excels at small town ease and charm so the role of Chief Willoughby, the target of Mildred's frustration in the lack of progress towards finding her daughter's killer, comes at a natural stride. Pair this performance with his work in WAR FOR THE PLANET OF THE APES and you get a great view of the range at hand with keeping the same temperance. I can go on and on about the performances but would like to shed light on just two more standouts. Peter Dinklage puts aside the dragons and kings to settle down in the earth of Missouri and shines. He has such a vulnerability to himself as James, the town dwarf, that you feel adoration for him nearly immediately. Finally, there is John Hawkes who goes about his business being one of the best talents out there in making character spots feel like leading roles. Truly this is a showcase for amazing talent who are given such words to work with that if you are not interested by the power struggle in every scene, you may be in the wrong theater.
McDonagh's previous films, and the trailer released for this project, may lead you to think that it's another black comedy. While it does include many moments of levity of the darker nature, this film is a different approach in the overall. It's his best effort thus far and it shows a balance to human drama and the occasional uncomfortable chuckle that is never forced, it simply exists. The pace and feel of the film moves by at a measured pace and the camera work is never intrusive. You are an observer left to make your own choices mentally on what is right and what is wrong even if you know it is wrong and want to think it is right. The first half of the film carries a narrative, delivered in part by the trailer shown, of a woman hell bent on raising hell over the hell she is enduring. The second part of the film though lifts that tale into one of the best films of the year without much competition.