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Nemesis Unplugged …Three Billboards Outside Ebbing,Missouri Is A Stunner: Movie Review

Subhash K . Jha

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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?                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

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