Written and Directed by Martin McDonagh
Reviewed by Brandon Bishop
“It’s hard to know what to do.”
The third feature film written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri follows In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths as a complex drama with a lot of charm and a fair share of dark comedic elements. Three Billboards, while sharing a lot of what makes McDonagh’s previous films so entertaining, truly steps up the drama and emotion, featuring terrific performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, and Sam Rockwell. The story follows a woman named Mildred, played by McDormand, whose teenage daughter was brutally murdered months earlier. She stumbles upon three dilapidated billboards near her home and rents them out to display words that bring public attention to the fact that the killer has not yet been found.
During its runtime, characters in Three Billboards experience every fathomable human emotion. Like other McDonagh films, incredibly well-written characters who at first may seem a little crazy, in a darkly comic way, but as the film progresses, we get to know deceptively complex characters who, while damaged, are very much human and relatable. McDormand’s performance will rightfully garner Oscar attention, while Harrelson’s and Rockwell’s performances display equal nuance and complexity. Each of them has their own complicated past, and even when McDonagh occasionally chooses to write them in a comedic light, they show incredible range and pathos with heartfelt sincerity.
The subject matter is a little heavy, to be sure, more so than McDonagh’s previous films. Three Billboards is confidently his first true drama, compared to the admittedly emotional black comedies he has directed before. As mentioned before, the film runs the gamut of emotion, but moves at just the right pace to let us absorb what we’re seeing before moving on. Nothing is rushed, but nothing drags. By the time the credits roll, we’ve been subject to a finely tuned emotional roller coaster that jerks us around, lets us breathe, hurts us deep, and then makes us laugh. McDonagh has delivered another fantastic character study, and the best film of his career thus far.