Verdict: A satirical masterpiece.
Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is now set to release in India, after bagging BAFTA, Golden Globe awards and seven Oscar nominations. One may wonder why this film has gotten this much traction even without a star and after watching the film, one immediately knows why.
What’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri About:
The mother of Angela Hayes – a youngster who succumbed to death after a gruesome rape – rents three dilapidated billboards outside a small town Ebbing, Missouri. All Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) wants is to do is draw the police’s attention towards her daughter’s case and impart justice. The billboards addressed towards the Chief of Police Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) are heart-wrenchingly simple questions about why there haven’t been any arrests for the crime. This attracts enough attention from the TV news and the locals. While a few are in favor and many are not, Mildred Hayes has no mind to pay attention to anyone’s “advice” or “warnings”, including the local pastor. She is past the point of care or fear and her worn out, stoic face gives it away, ironically. Gripped by consuming grief and maddening frustration towards what she feels is incompetence of the authorities (“The buck has to stop somewhere“, she says) and dressed in functional overalls and a bandana, she stands her ground.
Meanwhile, Willoughby, a family man with a sense of duty towards his job, is dealing with his own set of personal problems that, apparently, the whole town is aware of. His subordinate is Officer Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who is racist and not above abusing his power. But somehow, he doesn’t seem like a horrible person either; maybe just stupid and even mentally imbalanced. Dixon is dedicated to Willoughby and looks up to him in almost a paternal capacity.
This unrelenting charade has cascading effects that will make sure you don’t wink for a single frame in the movie. Anything after this point would be a spoiler.
The film rids us of all stereotypes that we are so used to – the black-and-white characters with a fixed moral good-bad compass. Instead, all the characters portray depth and shades, be it Mildred’s wife-beating ex-husband who has taken a 19-year-old girlfriend, Dixon, or James (Peter Dinklage), the car salesman who is crushing on Mildred.
Willoughby’s attitude towards an incessant Mildred is heartening. His dialogues with this strong, stoic-seeming yet grieving mother are so real that they hurt. His way of dealing with his own problems may be ethically questionable but Harrelson’s performance gives you a window into the character’s psyche and it is as if you get him. When did that happen the last time? The film handles Dixon’s transformation realistically and it is ironic that a police officer becomes better at his duty after being stripped of his badge and gun.
Three Billboards creates a benchmark in a tricky genre – black comedy. Your funny bone will not be tickled, it will be punched and probably bruised by the end of the movie.
What Could’ve Been Better:
The film sort of rises above critique at some point. It cuts deep, is unapologetic with crisp writing, and nothing takes that away.
Why You Should Watch This Film:
Because everybody should. The film is a sharp satire/black comedy with a heart-breaking backdrop, strongly etched-out characters with excellent execution. Never before were three ordinary seeming billboards this important.