Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Starring: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell
Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Rating: **** ½ (4 and a half stars)
The impressive slew of Golden Globe awards that this astounding film has won should surprise no one. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the kind of genre-defining cinema that creates a benchmark for many years to come.
Right at the outset it would be prudent to mention that Francis McDormand, in her Golden Globe winning performance, as a raging seething mother seeking justice for her raped and murdered daughter, brings to the film’s fine script a kind of dignity-in-devastation I’ve never seen in a vengeful mother before(and we’ve seen everyone from Sridevi to Raveena Tandon in a similar situation ).
McDormand plays Mildred Hayes as a mother whose tears have dried up leaving in their wake a bitterness and frustration that make her a ‘bitch’ and worse (her son calls her a ‘cu.t’) to all who are unfortunate enough to come in her range of venom.
Mildred is beyond caring about the niceties of a civil society. And just how ‘civil’ is this society where a young girl’s brutal annihilation goes unpunished ? Not that Mildred doesn’t care. Her shock when the police officer whom she has taken to task for tardy investigation by putting up billboards demanding results, coughs up cancerous blood , is so vividly etched on her face. That one sequence tells us how much grief this mother hides in her angry attitude.
This is a film where we are expected to constantly keep searching for signs of emotions in characters that are not prone to being emotionally demonstrative .
That the police officer whom Mildred pulls up is played Woody Harrelson is one more magnificent sleight of providence that aids this masterly exploration and tragedy and grief , to acquire greatness. Harrelson plays a dying cop , and very soon he’s dead. My most favourite sequence follows after Harrelson’s sudden death when his beautiful wife Anne(played by Abbie Cornish) drops by at Mildred’s workplace with a letter left behind by her husband.
After delivering the letter the grieving widow mumbles, “I really don’t know what I am going to do for the rest of the day.I’ve no idea what a woman whose husband has shot himself is supposed to do.”
The slicing irony and devastating sarcasm run across the lines spoken by the characters imbuing on them(the characters) a sense of raw unvarnished hurt. It’s not only about Mildred and her hurt about what happened to her daughter. What about Mildred’s son (played with lingering melancholy by Lucas Hedges). Sandwiched between his mother’s raging grief and his dead sister unvanquished spirit , Mildred’s son is at a loss for words.He remains quiet while his mother rages on.
Speaking of mothers, there is another fascinating portrait of matriarchy ,a brutish cop’s mother who fans and fuels her son’s violent tendencies. It’s a chilling portrayal of paternal perversity that makes us wonder if the cop –son has turned out the way he has because of the kind of mother that he has.
Every character is splendidly etched into a script that stretches and sprawls without losing its arching grace. Every actor shines in the smallest of roles. Look out for Samara Weaving as Mildred’s ex-husband’s new squeeze. She is outwardly a sexy bimbo. But the goodness of her heart spares her from becoming the brunt of ridicule.
Miraculously the plot about a sordid crime and its embittering aftermath , succeeds in finding the centre of humanism in almost every character, most of all the assistant cop, a racial bigoted sadistic pig of a man who lives with his possessive mother and proudly misuses his badge to bully citizens. His change of heart is a little hard to swallow . But what the hell! Shit happens in real life.
Sam Rockwell, who won the Golden Globe for best supporting actor, plays the sadistic cop turned softie, with grit and grandiosity.
Swinging effortlessly from viciousness to compassion Three Billboards…is a rare exceptional film that yokes cruelty and compassion in an uneasy embrace that never gets into the zone of the implausible. The plot is held together by McDormand’s majestic portrayal. But there is a lot more to this parable of violence and justice than meets the eye.
Deftly written and directed with a keen understanding of the clannish conspiracies that tie the people of small towns together, this film offers us a deep and penetrating view into the innermost enclaves of the human heart where unknown to us, the most unexpected secretion of humanism merges with the cruelest of blows dealt by destiny.
If only on that afternoon Mildred had not let her daughter walk to her party on that lonely stretch of highway.
“I hope I get raped,” the daughter had spitefully stomped off.
The director has spoken of how the film was inspired by billboards that he saw along the road once while travelling.
What if he had not travelled on that road?