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Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri @ London Film Festival 2017


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Writer/Director Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) deftly tackles hot-button issues with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - a darkly comic drama about a woman who demands justice for the murder of her daughter. 

Divorced mother Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), still grieving over the violent rape and murder of her daughter decides to rent three abandoned billboards and bring attention to the the lack of progress in the police investigationMany in her hometown are upset by this, including police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), whom the billboards refer to by name. 

Even if the topic of police accountability wasn't such a pressing, controversial issue, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri would still be an ambitious, daring movie. There are so many ways it could have gone wrong from concept to execution. Fortunately, this isn't the case.

For starters, there is no definitive right or wrong side here. The movie's eclectic cast of characters pretty much all reside in a murky, morally gray area and the story outright refuses to give you easy answers to tough questions. Mildred has a right to be angry and upset, but her words and actions can often be difficult to sympathize with.

When Willoughby confides in her that he's dying from cancer, Mildred says she already knew and decided to run the billboards anyway, because "they wouldn't be as effective after you croak." She's not indifferent to the pain her actions are causing, but she's more than willing to persevere regardless.

The character of Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is another great example. A racist, incompetent momma's boy with a penchant for abusing his power, Dixon seems like he's being set up as the movie's principal antagonist - particularly after a vicious an inexcusable display of police brutality - yet Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri opts to give him an unlikely and surprisingly effective redemption arc. 

All of this could have easily backfired and given us a movie full of unlikable, unsympathetic assholes, but it instead humanises the characters to a great extent. They're flawed, harsh and sometimes not easy to like or agree with - just like real people are. 

The depth of the characters gives the movie's incredibly talented cast a lot to work with and they do not disappoint. McDormand is absolutely incredible at portraying Mildred's cold, righteous anger and stubbornnes as well as her vulnerable side - her grief, her despair, her doubts. It's also a testament to both the strength of the writing and the quality of Sam Rockwell's performance that a character as despicable as Dixon can end up as someone you not only kind of feel bad for but want to see succeed and redeem himself. 

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri's dramatic peaks are quite something, but what's even more remarkable is how well it balances them with a darkly comedic side. This is a pretty damn funny black comedy that knows exactly when and how to push the boundaries of good taste.

Whether it's Mildred telling a priest to fuck off or her own son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) calling her a cunt in the most amazing way possible, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is just the right amount of crass. It's absolutely hillarious, yet the comedy never undermines the drama. 

The movie's open-ended final scene perfectly matches its ambiguity. It doesn't give you clear answers or solutions not because it's lazy or unwilling to commit to a stance, but because it's content to present you with a complex scenario and let you make up your own mind. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is challenging, brilliant and funny as hell - one of the year's best movies and a showcase for some of the year's best performances. 

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