Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

In association with the Glasgow Film Theatre

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The packed matinee screening, the rapturous applause that greeted the end credits and the plethora of awards the film has already picked up in the build-up to this years Oscars tells us two things about Martin McDonaghs Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Firstly, McDonagh is back to his best. Following the lukewarm critical and public reception of Seven Psychopaths, the director has returned to the themes and ideas that were at the forefront of his acclaimed feature debut In Bruges: guilt, anger, pain and sadness. However, just as with his previous two features McDonagh injects Three Billboards with bucket-loads of his characteristic sardonic humour. Given the truly unique and subversive nature of his writing and directing, it speaks to the quality of his latest film that he has successfully broken into the mainstream, while refusing to water down the intelligence and nastiness of his art.

Three Billboards tells the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a middle aged woman living in the titular small town of Ebbing in Missouri. Seven months after her daughter was the victim of a horrible crime on a small road just outside of town the local police, headed up by Woody Harrelson’s Chief Willoughby, Sam Rockwell’s Dixon and Zeljko Ivanek’s desk sergeant, have still failed to make any headway on the case. Mildred suspects that they are too busy ‘torturing black folk’ and drinking, and decides that in order to ‘focus their attention’ she should hire out three billboards on the same road on which her daughter was attacked and write messages, directed at the police and specifically at Willoughby, on these huge signs. This act sets in motion a chain of events which turns neighbour to foe and friend to enemy. At times the animosity is so charged it is reminiscent of the tension that Thomas Vinterberg delivers in his social dramas Festen and The Hunt.

At one stage the new 18-year-old girlfriend of Mildreds ex-husband tells Mildred that anger begets anger.While she is mercilessly mocked by Mildred and the audience alike for attempting to sound intelligent and insightful at her age, she has in fact stumbled upon the kernel of truth that lies at the heart not only of Three Billboards, but of McDonaghs art as a whole, both on screen and on stage.

This film will screen at the GFT until the 1st of February. Tickets are available here.

The GFT also offers a free 15-25 discount card for students, available here.

[Tim Abrams]

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