Billboards: a great way to advertise, or in Martin McDonagh’s eyes, the making of a unique, unapologetic, twisted comic tale.
With no culprit found to her daughter’s brutal murder, a mother (Frances McDormand) launches her attack on the local inept police force, in a bid to find justice.
If you want stuff done, do it yourself – is the attitude adopted unquestioningly by the characters, and forms the outer layer of the film, peel this layer away and you see what the characters are blind to – but at what cost? This afterthought is the driving point of the story, as the characters are governed by their selfish all-consuming desires, disregarding their judgement to self-indulge in the belief that their agenda is paramount and above any law and order. Sounds pretty bleak for the characters, but it is to the audience’s glee as this is where the dark humour lies.
It goes without saying that if you are easily offended then this definitely is not the film for you. The plot point is no laughing matter, yet it is watching the characters undertake their personal vendettas which bring home the laughs. The unorthodox methods adopted by the characters are funny, yet the comedy is amplified through McDonagh highlighting in some form, a method to these character’s madness. The dialogue is vital in making this black comedy shine, from one-liners beautifully timed by actors, or a rant which falls off the tongue so easily, you would forget the lines were pre-written elsewhere.
Frances McDormand is a force to be reckoned with, turning in an unforgettable performance as Mildred, the grieving mother you will not have seen before. The contradiction of Mildred as a character brings her centremost to her scenes, the ‘hard-as-nails’ exterior brings the comedy, with McDormand leaving subtle glimpses into the broken woman Mildred has become in her grief. A truly layered performance, tied off neatly in her strong presence as a comic actress.
Having a strong lead in McDormand, as well as Sam Rockwell’s performance as Dixon, a racist, violent, incompetent police officer, means McDonagh can delicately bleed through the tragedy underpinning this black comedy, crafting a layered film pinning together the humour and ugliness found in human nature. An over-stretched plot and a sense that the film could have been shorter is a risk McDonagh’s film carries, a risk in particular to the comic elements – dulling the humour of moments which are drawn out.
This distinctive black comedy is memorable for the right reasons, and definitely not a blueprint on getting justice.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is currently playing in cinemas.