Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri begins like a stroll in the park and turns into a rampaging runaway locomotive. As you sit down to watch this movie, you will only have a short time to get comfortable before you are taken out of your comfort zone.
Uncompromising. Relentless. Powerful. Those words describe the ideas, characters, dialogue and confrontations depicted in Three Billboards.
The brutal death of Mildred Haye’s daughter is at the heart of the motive that drives her search for justice. It is the trigger that propels an examination of the town’s moral centre, its people and the culture that nurtures it.
The town and its people aknowledge the anguish of her loss but have moved on with their lives. They see it as an unfortunate occurrence but life goes on.
For Mildred, life is a constant attempt to seek retribution.
It all begins when three disused billboards on a remote road on the outskirts of Ebbing, Missouri spark an idea in Mildred’s head that ignites tensions within the town.
Frances Mc Dormand is unrelenting in her portrayal of Mildred.
Other residents central to the unfolding violence are Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), billboard owner Red (Caleb Landry Jones), and Deputy Sheriff Dixon (Sam Rockwell). They all deliver devastating performances.
At times, their depiction borders on small town America caricatures, although director Martin McDonagh is careful to maintain a balance between exaggeration and a sense of people who are able to recognise and reform their attitudes and behaviours. There is moral salvation for these individuals.
Deputy Dixon’s mother sums up the town’s attitudes when she says ‘the south has changed, although it shouldn’t have’. This is not about transition from the old to the new ways of thinking; it’s about the mindset of the characters and through them the mindset of the town and region.
Three Billboards shares film DNA with the Coen Brothers, especially the violence and the brutality of the language. Terminology that is racist, misogynistic and unleashes violence lurks everywhere. Interestingly, the movie is also intensely and darkly hilarious.
Mildred’s fierce nature erupts when confronted by such actions and speech. She is a no nonsense individual who won’t back down from anyone, regardless of age, gender or political power. This is her strength. Simultaneously, it is also her weakness and prevents her from resolving the hardships evident in her life.
The script is controlled; characters don’t speak in clichés.
The three billboards broadcasting Mildred’s thoughts employ a selective diet of words. Short. Sharp. Like a knife cutting your nerve endings. They undercut and slice through the issues.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a film version of a punch to the face. It is bracing, confronting, offensive and will make you sit up and pay attention.