Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

New comedy/drama/crime flick Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the best Woody Harrelson film with an unwieldy title since War for the Planet of the Apes.

Frances McDormand gives another powerhouse performance as the grieving mother of a raped and murdered teenager, who rents three billboards to read: “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests?”, “How come, Chief Willoughby?” This singular (or triple) act of defiance provokes sentiment, laughter and contemplation, balanced to perfection by writer/director Martin McDonagh.

Three Billboards contains McDonagh’s usual hallmarks (black comedy, pathos, midgets) but substantiates them with intelligence and complexity that evokes the Coen Brothers at their finest. McDormouse’s formidable protagonist is as unforgettable as Fargo‘s Marge Gunderson and looks set to win her another Oscar after the movie picked up four Golden Globes this week. Mind you, The Greatest Showman won an award for one of its songs so we should be careful using them as indicators of anything other than hearing problems and/or dementia.

There are also stellar performances from Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, who at first feels like a lost Hot Fuzz character but grows and learns along with everyone else. Every major character has an arc while all the colourful supporting players are memorable no matter how brief their screen time. It’s a film of nuance and empathy, where moments of tenderness rise above cycles of pain.

Of course everything good has to have a backlash now, it’s the modern equivalent of a tie-in video game. And although the criticisms of the movie’s racial issues are not easily dismissed (nor should they be), Three Billboards is an essentially human film. To an even more developed degree than In Bruges, there’s great poignancy beneath McDonagh’s sharp tongue, shocking violence and the best use of ABBA’s Chiquitita since Mamma Mia! 

This is a thought-provoking, multi-faceted picture of sadness, hatred and forgiveness that ties your guts in knots and seems unlikely to be bettered in 2018. Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again notwithstanding.

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