Gotta be a tough task, finding humor in material easily described as harrowing. Or, perhaps I should say, it’s a tough task to do it WELL.
That’s part of what makes writer/director Martin McDonagh’s film, ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ such a mesmerizing masterpiece; with the raw nerves involved, how this story keeps you not only engaged….but entertained…is sheer brilliance. There’s a ton of valid messages about the catalogue of hot button issues buried under this hard shell of a tale – everything from politics to race, harassment, abuse, you name it – but McDonagh doesn’t construct any kind of soapbox here. Rather, he unpacks one very solid, very original story about how different individuals navigate both the fire of conflict and the heartbreak of the ashes that result from it.
Frances McDormand, so willing to stretch that she’s a superb choice for anything a little off-center, plays Mildred Hayes, a woman raging with both anger and pain over the loss of her daughter who was raped and murdered. With no viable suspect and public awareness of the case slowly disappearing, Mildred decides to put up three billboards mocking small-town police chief William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, another perfect fit) and his squad. The move especially irks dense, booze-soaked deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a man drowning not only in whiskey, but insecurity probably due to the fact that he still lives with his mom who takes pleasure in goading her son into acts of violence.
Once the media catches wind of the billboards, the focus falls on the old west-like showdown between Hayes and Willoughby…..though, unlike westerns, the characters don’t wear white or black hats. See, there are no REAL heroes in ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ – just people trying to survive the chaos. And that, my friends, makes it quite possibly the most realistic motion picture in years. It’s blunt, funny at times, tragic at others, sometimes hard to watch, and rarely at any point do you have an ounce of a clue at what’s going to happen next. Just like life.