Film – Three Billboards
Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Director – Martin McDonagh
Cast – Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage
Frances McDormand’s lead character, Mildred Hayes, is the ultimate badass. No, the lady does not wear cool shades or dress in leather or even drive a mean set of wheels. Those depictions are, for the want of a better phrase, heavily cliché-ridden. What makes Mildred so impressive is that she is identifiable. She is the everywoman who exemplifies boundless courage, refusing to take a backward step no matter the circumstance. A small-town mother in the American south looking for answers to her daughter’s unsolved murder, Hayes is feisty, quick-witted, often downright hilarious, has a vituperative tongue, and yet, hasn’t lost touch with her humanity.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, rests on the shoulders of what may well turn out to be an Oscar-winning performance from Frances McDormand. With seven nominations at the upcoming Academy Awards, it will be hard to imagine the film not walking away with at least half those honours come March 4. Based on a straightforward premise, Three Billboards, which is set in the fictional town of Ebbing, recounts the tale of a mother seeking answers from the local police department for her daughter’s rape and murder. Dismayed by the apparent apathy of law enforcement authorities, Mildred Hayes rents three derelict billboards on a near-deserted stretch of road. Each successive hoarding reads: “RAPED WHILE DYING”; “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”; “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”
The matter escalates quickly, and Mildred gets the raw end of the stick from the predominantly conservative local community. The highly respected Chief Willoughby (Harrelson) attempts to convince her that the department did everything in its power to solve the case. Even as Hayes remains steadfast, Willoughby feels that singling him out for a seven-month old unsolved murder investigation is unfair. The easily-incensed, visibly dim-witted, and racist/homophobic Officer Dixon (Rockwell) exerts pressure on Mildred to take down the ads, but she refuses to succumb to public pressure. In the midst of all the furore, it is learned that the likeable police chief is suffering from a terminal illness.
While it explores a grave subject, the film fuses its most intense and poignant moments with large doses of dark humour. Just as a heavy scene builds up to challenge your sensibilities, an instance of unexpected comedy pulls the rug from under your feet. Mildred’s no-nonsense attitude does not dim for even an instant. There’s an exchange early on, when the town’s parish priest calls on Mildred. He tells her that the community supports her need for justice, but doesn’t agree with her methods.
Mildred responds sharply, and alludes to the rampant sexual abuse going on in church, while telling him flatly to ‘get the f*** out of her house.’ While being interrogated by Chief Willoughby for allegedly assaulting the dentist, she is horror-stricken when he inadvertently coughs up blood; her innate kindness shines as she rushes to get him help. Three Billboards is the kind of film that defies categorisation. Yes, it celebrates the power of individual protest by other means, but it also makes you laugh uncontrollably at its black comedy.