Martin McDonagh directs Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. The story of one woman who takes it upon herself to take on the local authorities who failed to apprehend the criminal behind the gruesome rape and murder of her daughter.
Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes – a small town Missouri divorced mother of two who lost her daughter a year ago and the perpetrators are still at large. She blames the police chief, William Willoughby played by the inimitable Woody Harrelson, of dereliction of his duty. Other characters in the saga are, the head of the town advertising agency Red Welby played by Caleb Landry Jones and utterly incompetent inspector Dixon played by Sam Rockwell.
Martin McDonagh has been a director whose work I have been keen to see but never managed to get around to. In Bruges garnered him critical acclaim and seven psychopaths seemed to divide the critics but the praise for Three Billboards has been deservedly unanimous. The original story by McDonagh is a shoo-in for a nomination this year. Every character is perfectly fleshed out and someone you can get personally invested in – there are no villains and no real heroes. Each one of them is flawed and shows a level of raw vulnerability that tugs at your heart.
The three standouts for me are McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell. Frances McDormand seems to thrive in these stories set in Rural America. She won her Oscar in Fargo and seems poised to repeat the feat with Three Billboards. Her Midlred Hayes is a tough as nails woman who takes on the entire police department by putting up three billboards to remind them of the still unsolved crime which took her daughter. There is also a vulnerability to her when she talks to a deer, breaks down in a flood of tears as she witnesses a fire. There is also a tenderness to her when she consoles chief Willoughby as he coughs up blood. Woody Harrelson is Mr. Dependable he is the police chief who seems to be running the department with a very laid back attitude. He lets slide a number of infractions on the part of Officer Dixon and but you also see a more genial more thoughtful side to him in the letters he leaves behind for both Mildred and Dixon. Sam Rockwell as Officer Dixon is stupidity personified. He is egged on by his mother and every single choice he makes is the wrong one. However towards the end he is able to redeem himself in a manner that is most unexpected.
The lush cinematography of Ben Davis adds another layer of unexpected beauty to the story. The editing by John Gregory is so precise that not once does the pace slacken or feel flabby at any point.
A simple story masterfully told through characters that are brilliantly written and even more brilliantly enacted. Three Billboards outside Ebbing Missouri is fantastic and unmissable.