The premise of the film, a woman taking action against the local police force after no leads on her daughter’s murder, doesn’t strike you as a comedy. The opening few minutes don’t strike you as one either, but as soon as the jokes start hitting, they hit you hard – you’ll wonder whether you should laugh at some of the things that are presented to you, but it’s laid out so perfectly on a plate for you to enjoy. Three Billboards is taking the awards season by storm, and it’s easy to see why Martin McDonagh has been praised with his nuanced way of telling a story of heartache, determination and loss.
Mildred Hayes is angry. Her daughter was raped and murdered 8 months ago and the police have hit a dead end, no leads to follow and ultimately closing the case. The mother doesn’t take this lightly, and the film opens with her almost charging in to the local advertising company to take out a whole years worth of ads on the three billboards outside of town. The message? ‘Raped while dying and still no murders. How come Chief Willoughby?’ Quite an incentive for the chief of police Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) to do something about the slow paced investigation. The message divides the otherwise quiet town, opening up new wounds and exploring how a small town like Ebbing can begin to implode when pressure points are pushed.
There’s is a sense of you know where it’s going. Pressure on the police reopens the investigation into Angela Hayes’ murder, the story progresses and they get closer to solving it, but this is almost a background element to the real heart of the film. There’s a constant feeling of fragility throughout each of the strands that is told; from Mildred’s quest to uncovering more about her daughters murder, to Chief Willoughby’s internal struggles with the pressure placed upon him. Local townsfolk interject their own thoughts about the billboards and even Mildred’s ex husband has his own situation to worry about. Each of these well developed characters create a satisfyingly wholesome world where you feel you know each of the moving pawns in the overarching story. You’re introduced to a few characters who don’t have much screen time. In other films, you might complain they were underused or not needed at all, but each addition to the cast moves on the story ever so slightly, but perfectly choreographed so.
Oscar buzz films are not everyone’s cup of tea, but this film definitely stands out above the crowd. The comedy flair that runs through the story keeps the pace moving and never makes you feel as if you’re waiting for the end, mainly because there’s not a very clear one in sight. That’s not a bad thing, and you’ll want to stay with Francis McDormand’s Mildred as long as possible because she is unbelievably captivating. She directs her emotions in extreme and contrasting ways throughout the brilliant script, bouncing from the caring mother to a slightly psychotic lone ranger. The overwhelming sense of pain grounding characters as the film progresses comes through in each and every performance, from Woody Harrelson to Sam Rockwell and all supporting cast members. There doesn’t ever feel there’s a wrong chord struck throughout the runtime and the story true touches nerves that you’ve probably not felt before. The BAFTA win for both McDormand and the film will keep the story in cinemas for a few more weeks, so go get an education in how an original story can be perfectly told on screen.
Check out the trailer below: