Woody Harrelson, left, and Frances McDormand in a scene from
Woody Harrelson, left, and Frances McDormand in a scene from "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."

Three Billboards is not the movie you think it is

GIVEN director Martin McDonagh's previous work, you'd expect Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri to be darkly funny and wall-to-wall crammed with violence.

And while it is funny at times and violent at other times, Three Billboards is much more than that.

Mildred (Frances McDormand) is livid. Her daughter's brutal rape and murder seven months earlier is still unsolved with little evidence of an active police investigation.

Fuelled by grief and a sense of guilt, Mildred rents three disused billboards on a quiet street just outside of her small Missouri town with these simple messages: "Raped while dying", "Still no arrests?" and "How come, Chief Willoughby?".

The stunt is effective and it puts her on the warpath with much of the town establishment. Only the outsiders - African-Americans, the gay billboard vendor (Caleb Landry Jones) and James (Peter Dinklage), a dwarf - seem to be on her side.

Mildred is unrelenting and uncompromising - she wants the government to set up a database with the DNA of every male baby born so it can be used to match sexual violence with its offender - "be sure and kill 'em", she says with no hesitation.

Three Billboards deftly plays with your expectations. Setting itself up as a one-woman crusade against institutional apathy or some patriarchal conspiracy - even the music has the twangs of western rebellion - but it then goes somewhere unexpected.


Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) isn't a bad guy, he's not even an incompetent guy. He's warm, understanding and he sees potential and value in people others dismiss.

And Dixon, the dumb, racist and violent cop, also manages to surprise you, and that's in part due to Sam Rockwell's stunning performance. That Rockwell can make this character, who on the surface is the worst kind of person, seem vulnerable and sympathetic is remarkable.

Of course, Three Billboards belongs to McDormand and the righteous, vengeful fury she brings to the role. Her grief is like napalm, threatening to destroy everything and everyone in her path.

A determined woman with a strong motivation, she's every bit as flawed as those around her and she's not immune to behaving horribly. She doesn't give two f**ks if you like her or not.

This is Fargo or Olive Kitteridge-level McDormand, a performance that demands another collaboration between the actor and writer-director McDonagh.

McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) has crafted a magnificently rich story filled with complexities and twisting turns - it's an experiential kaleidoscope.

The film is a powerful and multidimensional exploration of rage, grief, injustice, redemption and the possibility of forgiveness. And its grey approach very much makes you question your own views.

Rating: 4/5

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is in cinemas now.


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