Simon Dillon reviews the brilliantly written, acted and directed drama.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Frances McDormand could well win Best Actress at this year's Oscars for her turn as Mildred Hayes in Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Playing a woman whose daughter was horrifically raped and murdered, McDormand seamlessly and simultaneously conveys a gamut of emotions and characteristics in her raw, fully-rounded embodiment of the character. There is a numb, brittle, brilliantly understated way she carries herself, yet she also explodes in sequences of rage, undercut with a rich vein of dark humour. We feel her righteous anger, yet we also see that the appalling tragedy has robbed her of some of her humanity. We see that she is formidable and not to be underestimated, yet we also learn that she was a victim of domestic violence at the hands of her ex-husband. In short, her performance of this superbly written character evokes wonder.

Frustrated at what she perceives as the laziness and ineptitude of the local police, Mildred hires three derelict billboards outside her small town of Ebbing to bemoan this fact, singling out Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for particular responsibility. Needless to say this ruffles feathers, and local sympathy, which had previously been with Mildred, begins to turn against her.

To say too much more would spoil the plot, but suffice to say no character is painted entirely in shades of black or white. For example, Willoughby turns out to be a far more sympathetic character than we initially think he might be, and even thuggish, racist cop Dixon (a stand-out supporting role from Sam Rockwell) is a fully three-dimensional character whose story arc is fascinating. All other performances are solid, making the very best of writer/director Martin McDonagh's first-rate screenplay. Donagh, previously best known for In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, has here directed his best film to date.

Some will moan that Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri is depressing, but as ever I feel sorry for such people. Yes it is heartbreakingly sad, but the tragedy is undercut by the afore-mentioned pitch black humour. I do need to add warnings for extremely strong language and violence, but the film has a warm and humane undercurrent which subtly but convincingly gets across a powerful message about hate versus love. At one point said message is delivered via Mildred's ex-husband's nineteen year old lover (who, with deliberate irony, is frequently made an object of ridicule): hate only begets greater hate. As one character later states, love is the answer, because love causes you to slow down, think, and see what you couldn't see previously.

A brilliantly written, acted and directed drama, I highly recommend Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri. CR

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