Oscar season is upon us and January is the time when the contenders start coming to the big screen. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri by Martin McDonagh deserves the recognition it is getting from the Academy if not for the best picture nomination, for the breath-taking performances from Frances McDormand alone puts this film in high standing.
The film follows McDormand character Mildred, who has had enough of the local police forces ineffectiveness to find her daughters murderer. So she erects three billboards, showing her disdain for the lack of work done. This causes a lot a controversy in the local town, causing the dismay of Woody Harrelson’s police chief Willoughby and officer Dixon played by Sam Rockwell.
Martin McDonagh has done it again mixing the right blend of high drama with well-timed dark humour. The writer and director of two great dark comedies, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, both dramas that are not afraid to make the audience laugh with such subtle moments in the writing, that does not take away from the theme of the story. He truly is great at highlighting that whenever there is a great tragedy, the most human thing to do to cope is to find the humour within the tragedy. I’m glad to say Three Billboards keeps up that trend from McDonagh and in my view, possibly his strongest, making his characters say so much with just a couple of words, but still maintaining their humanity.
His directing style is also to be commended, his use of close-ups, in particular, highlighting so much in one’s character. They tell the audience about his characters and their true nature even if they go against their persona shown overtly on screen. When the film hits its most brutal McDonagh uses a fantastic tracking shot following one character’s horrendous act but not following the effects of the victims, only the action. Brilliantly shot and shows the true aggression of that character is quickly known to the audience.
Frances McDormand brings, in my opinion, her best performance. She plays Mildred with solid, no-nonsense determination, who sticks to her beliefs no matter what is thrown in her direction. However, if you look closely in some scenes and really study her performance, the subtle movements and facial expressions were McDormand shows she is a much more vulnerable, caring person and a mother who just wants the truth. Particularly one scene she has with Woody Harrelson highlights the true characteristics of Mildred before this traumatic event, changing her persona in an instant.
Woody Harrelson brings another great performance expected from such an acclaimed actor. Willoughby is the straight man in this story, who must struggle with everyone’s problems. Which is shocking when his actions halfway through do shock the audience but do make sense as the story continues coming to be used as the catalyst to bring a change to the rest of the characters’ lives and their behaviours.
The character that is affected most by this story is Sam Rockwell’s Dixon, and I stand by that Sam Rockwell is one of the most underrated actors of this generation. In Three Billboards he is fantastic, he takes Dixon on a true journey. He truly plays a nasty piece of work but has this charm and charisma making him relatable to the audience, especially as the film progresses. Rockwell is one of those actors, who can play wicked but still show some hints of his humanity the part of Dixon was made for him. Is this the year he’s finally recognized by the Academy? It most definitely should be.
With great writing, directing and performances I can think of no reason why people would not enjoy this movie. It has the right mixture of humour and drama, without feeling forced or clichéd and it truly deserves the amount of praise it is getting. When Martin McDormand makes a film I can guarantee I’m going to enjoy it, it’s just a real shame he’s busy on other projects to bring his next great film, but I’m sure we wait with great anticipation after this one.