Jonathan Fryer

Writer, Lecturer, Broadcaster and Liberal Democrat Politician

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri *****

Posted by jonathanfryer on Tuesday, 13th February, 2018

9B42423F-F841-4B0C-8AB0-E55CF2BC40A0When a young woman is raped and killed in a small town in America’s Deep South, her mother, Mildred, rages at the local police’s inability to find any suspect. After months of no progress, Mildred challenges the police and the whole of the town’s largely redneck community by posting provocative messages on three battered old billboards on the outskirts of town. This puts her on a collision course with the head of the local police station and his somewhat dim-witted younger colleague. Mildred, who runs a gift shop selling cheap china animals, essentially becomes an outcast, like the barely emancipated black inhabitants of the area and the gays. Her reaction is effectively to turn into an outlaw, with escalating consequences. Martin McDonagh’s film deals intelligently with the grey zone between right and wrong and as each of the characters develops during the film we begin to realise that they are not as good or bad or even stupid as they first appear. Too often in cinema, when there is a strong moral narrative, characters can seem two-dImensional, but in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri they are remarkably multi-dimensional, sometimes surprising themselves as well as the viewer. The pace of much of the film is as languorous as the southern community it portrays, but punctuated with shocking outbursts of violence. Both Woody Harrelson as the police chief and Sam Rockwell as his underling put in fine, nuanced performances that enrich the drama, but the undoubted star is Frances McDormand as Mildred, with her care-lined face and half-destroyed soul, both grieving and vengeful over her daughter’s fate. One is rooting for Mildred from the beginning until things start to go seriously wrong and her actions become ever more deceitful and aggressive. Only during a chance encounter with a deer do we get to see an inner sweetness to Mildred, which has otherwise been buried beneath a hard carapace of bitterness and despair. McDormand is magnificent in conveying all of Mildred’s complexity and Martin McDonagh should be applauded for producing a truly remarkable movie.

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