Film review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the first unmissable title of 2018
Director Martin McDonagh interweaves grief, humour, honesty and stylised thrills in this unpredictable and yet totally relatable tale; Sam Rockwell’s incompetent, racist sheriff’s deputy stands out in an impeccable ensemble cast
Distantly evoking the most nihilistic qualities of the Coen Brothers’ brand of small-town noir, Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri arrives in Hong Kong cinemas with a fistful of Golden Globes, and has emerged as an early favourite to win this year’s best picture Oscar.
Months after the brutal rape and murder of her teenage daughter, grieving mother Mildred (Frances McDormand) rents out three giant billboard ads, lambasting the local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) for failing to make a single arrest. Her actions turn the police department and most of the community against Mildred, as events quickly escalate in violent, unexpected directions.
A story of desperation and revenge as darkly funny as it is tragically bleak, Three Billboards expertly undermines expectations, pushing characters far beyond their traditional archetypes. McDormand, never better, imbues Mildred with an unstoppable strength and determination, while Harrelson’s sheriff remains sympathetic to her plight despite public criticism.
It is Sam Rockwell’s incompetent, racist deputy, however, who truly stands out in an impeccable ensemble cast that also includes Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones and John Hawkes.
As achieved so expertly in his debut In Bruges, McDonagh interweaves grief, humour, honesty and stylised thrills into a rich narrative tapestry that is at once unpredictable and wholly relatable. The film touches on many pertinent issues, from a distrust in authority to demanding justice for sexual violence, while insisting that people be recognised as more than merely their worst attributes.
All being told, Three Billboards is close to perfect – and the first unmissable film of the year.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opens on January 18
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