A brilliantly biting, strikingly dark comedy that is noted director Martin McDonagh's best to date.
Taking place in the titular small town in roughly modern times, local woman Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) rents out three billboards lined up in a row along a little-used road near her home. On the billboards, she places three connected phrases, the ultimate message of which is to question the local sheriff, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), as to why he has yet to find the person(s) responsible for the rape and murder of her teenage daughter, a horrific act which happened a year prior. The billboards set off a range of emotions in several of the townspeople, and they expose more than a few sentiments that have lingered slightly beneath the surface for many. Most of these sentiments are connected to deep anger, and the only person who might be angrier than Mildred herself is the none-too-bright deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a racist and homophobic thug who more often than he wishes finds himself in the middle of the firestorm that Mildred sets off with her billboards.
Anyone who has seen Martin McDonagh's other films In Bruges or Seven Psychopaths knows that he loves his humor pitch-dark, and Three Billboards is right in line with his previous movies. But while In Bruges was more overtly comic, and Seven Psychopaths had a much more bizarre, overall gonzo feel to it, Three Billboards includes more genuine, and genuinely moving, emotional turns. Yes, the plot turns and even sometimes the characters are quite obviously works of fiction, given the sometimes-extreme nature of what occurs and the main players' reactions. But it all has a mostly cohesive feel, and one that is helped along by plenty of downright hilarious (but again, dark) comedy. McDonagh seems to have found his best balance of his sly storytelling abilities and a certain poignancy with which he has only flirted in the past. The running theme he works with here is that of anger in several forms, and how people handle it in sometimes highly destructive ways, even when that anger is justified. This seems like a topic especially relevant to our current times.
|Frances McDormand is an immense force in this movie,|
utterly unafraid to face down anyone she sees as coming
between her and her desired justice. This includes head-
strong bully cops, like Sam Rockwell's Officer Dixon.
I will say that not everything in the movie fits perfectly into place. There are a few over-the-top or simply oddball scenes which feel too much at odds with the overall tone at times. And the change that Officer Dixon undergoes is a bit inexplicable in a few ways. Still, the movie's strengths do more than enough to outweigh such questionable elements.
At this point, I have seen eight of the nine nominees for Oscar Best Picture, and Three Billboards is among my favorites. Though it might not be as tight or quite as narratively polished as several of the other nominees, it is, along with Get Out, the gutsiest and most unique of them all. I give it a semi-outside chance at winning, but I'll be surprised if it wins the big award.