Monday, December 04, 2017

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the story of a woman who rents three billboards to bring attention into why the local police haven’t made any effort into finding out who killed her daughter. It’s a film that explores a small town unraveled by a woman’s need for justice where its chief wants to help but is dealing with personal matters prompting his deputy to cause a lot of trouble. Starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, and Sam Rockwell. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a visceral and eerie film from Martin McDonagh.

A young woman had been raped and killed outside a small town in Missouri as her mother becomes consumed with guilt and rage as the investigation hasn’t gone anywhere prompting her to rent three billboards outside of the home that asks its local police chief why hasn’t there been any arrests. The film is about these three billboards which has caused a lot of trouble for this small town in Missouri as its police chief is dealing with the fact that he’s dying from cancer despite the fact that he does want to help. Yet, there are those who are angered by the billboards including a deputy who acts out by causing all sorts of trouble unaware of what he’s supposed to do for the town. Martin McDonagh’s screenplay doesn’t just explore this small town rocked by a murder only to be more unhinged when Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides to rent these three billboards outside of a town that is on her way home where it reads the following message in sequential form: “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, and “How come, Chief Willoughby?”

While Chief Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is upset over the billboards, he does understand Mildred’s anger as he is still unable to get a break over the murder of Mildred’s daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton). Adding to his trouble is the fact that he’s diagnosed with cancer as he’s become more concerned with his wife Anne (Abbie Cornish) and his two daughters. Though he tries to continue his job as well as find any clues with Angela’s murder with Deputy Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) helping him despite the fact that he doesn’t like Mildred nor does he do what is right by the law as he is prejudiced and takes the law into his own hands. One of McDonagh’s key aspects of the script isn’t just the structure and this exploration for peace and justice in a small town. It’s also in the development of the characters as both Mildred and Chief Willoughby are individuals want some idea of justice as the first two acts revolve around both of them with the former being a single mother with a teenage son in Robbie (Lucas Hedges) as she also has a contentious relationship with her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes).

Then there’s Dixon who is this mama’s boy that is very hot-headed and eager to succeed in the force but is also a dimwit who prefers to read comic books and listen to music on his earphones than do his job. There are people in the force who would question why Willoughby would keep him on the job as it would be unveiled in the third act where it play into Dixon’s development as a character. Especially as he would find his true calling that would give him a sense of purpose as well as give some kind of hope and peace to Mildred and Chief Willoughby.

McDonagh’s direction is definitely evocative in terms of the imagery he creates where it is shot mainly in Sylvia, North Carolina as this small town of Ebbing, Missouri with its usage of mountains and routes with certain curves on the road. Yet, there is this one location of these three abandoned billboards that would be at the center of the film as they would appear constantly whether it’s in a wide shot or in a close-up. Since the billboards are below a hill where Mildred can see hit from her house, it is placed in an area outside of town where it would get a lot of attention where McDonagh’s would showcase how some would react to these billboards. Notably Chief Willoughby and Dixon who would see these billboards as it just add to their reaction whether it’s serious or comical. The humor in the film does have an aspect of darkness but also in the way Mildred deals with people including a local priest as she puts him in his place.

McDonagh would also use close-ups and medium shots to get an intimate look into the lives of the characters in the film as he would show what they’re like as Mildred is just a woman who works in a shop that is just consumed with grief and anger as she lives with her teenage son. Chief Willoughby lives in a farm with his family while living in the small town is Dixon with his mother as they all have different lives and personalities yet are part of this very diverse community that is coming apart by Mildred’s actions. Even in some of the moments that involve arson and violence with the latter coming from Dixon as he beats up a local advertising agent. It’s a gruesome scene but it play into the sense of loss that Dixon is dealing with and his inability to control himself as he would later find that control during a tense meeting with a man at a bar. It’s a moment that shows that despite many of Dixon’s flaws, there is still a man that is just trying to do good for his community. Even in a world where justice is hard to come by for a woman just wanting peace for her daughter and those who had suffered through this murder. Overall, McDonagh crafts a mesmerizing yet gripping film about a woman calling attention for justice for her daughter’s rape and murder.

Cinematographer Ben Davis does brilliant work with the film’s cinematography from the usage of low-key lights and such for many of the scenes set at night to a more naturalistic look for the interior/exterior scenes set in the day. Editor Jon Gregory does excellent work with the editing as it is straightforward with some rhythmic cuts to play into the drama and suspense. Production designer Inbal Weinberg, with set decorator Merissa Lombardo and art director Jesse Rosenthal, does fantastic work with the look of some of the locations including the police precinct building and the look of the billboards. Costume designer Melissa Toth does nice work with the costumes as it is mostly casual including the uniforms Chief Willoughby and his team wear.

Special makeup effects designer Leo Corey Castellano does terrific work with the look of a character late in the film as it play to escalation of tension in the film. Visual effects supervisor Tyler Gooden does wonderful work with the visual effects as it is mainly based on scenes involving fire. Sound editor Joakim Sundstrom does superb work with the sound with the way some of the scenes in the small town occurs as well as some of the film’s violent moments. The film’s music by Carter Burwell is incredible for its mixture of low-key orchestral music with some country textures to play into the location of where the film is set while music supervisor Karen Elliott provides a fun and offbeat soundtrack that include music from ABBA, the Four Tops, and a mixture of music genres ranging from folk, country, rock, and classical music.

The casting by Sarah Finn is marvelous as it feature some notable small roles from Amanda Warren as Mildred’s friend/co-worker Denise, Darrell Britt-Gibson as a billboard painter who helps Mildred in posting the ads, Kerry Condon as the advertising agent secretary Pamela, Clarke Peters as a man who would come at the film’s second half to take charge of the investigation, Nick Searcy as the local priest who tries to help Mildred only to get a lashing about what he does, Christopher Berry as a mysterious visitor of the town, Sandy Martin as Dixon’s mother who is also prejudiced, Zeljko Ivanek as the precinct desk sergeant Cedric Connolly, Samara Weaving as Charlie’s dim-witted 19-year old girlfriend Penelope, Riya May Atwood and Selah Atwood as Chief Willoughby’s daughters, and Kathryn Newton as Mildred’s daughter Angela in a lone flashback scene on the night she was to be killed. Caleb Landry Jones is terrific as the billboard advertising agent Red Welby who takes Mildred’s money to post the ads where he would later get himself into serious trouble with Dixon.

Lucas Hedges is superb as Mildred’s son Robbie who is dealing with the action of his mother as he considers moving in with his father as he also realizes the need for justice. Peter Dinklage is fantastic as James as a local who is a friend of Mildred as he would help get out of trouble during the film’s third act as a way to give her something she didn’t have in her marriage to Charlie. John Hawkes is excellent as Mildred’s ex-husband Charlie who had been abusive to her as he feels that her action with the billboards have done nothing but bring trouble. Abbie Cornish is brilliant as Willoughby’s wife Anne who is dealing with her husband’s illness as well as the impact of the billboards where she does meet with Mildred in a scene during the second act as it play into the injustice that everyone is dealing with.

Sam Rockwell is incredible as Jason Dixon as a police deputy that is this odd mixture of someone who is ignorant and is willing to do something stupid but there’s also a good person in there where Rockwell toes the line between being profane and being decent where he later goes through a transformation of sorts in the third act where he realizes what needs to be done. Woody Harrelson is remarkable as Chief Bill Willoughby as a local police chief who is the target of Mildred’s billboards as he is aware of what he needs to do but he’s also dealing with his own illness as it’s a role that displays some humility but also some dignity. Finally, there’s Frances McDormand in a phenomenal performance as Mildred Hayes as a woman who is consumed with grief and guilt over the loss of her daughter as she rents three billboards to get attention and justice for her daughter as it’s a role of anguish, rage, and humor in which McDormand just seizes every ounce of energy and anger into her role while displaying this I-don’t-give-a-fuck attitude about a world that is dark while clinging to some idea of hope.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a tremendous film from Martin McDonagh. Featuring a great ensemble cast, beautiful locations, an offbeat music soundtrack, and themes about justice and the need for action in a world that doesn’t get anything done. It’s a film that showcases what some will do in a call for action but also to make sense in a world of injustice where there are those that want to do what is right no matter how complicated the world can be. In the end, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a magnificent film from Martin McDonagh.

Martin McDonagh Films: (Six Shooter) – In Bruges - Seven Psychopaths

© thevoid99 2017


Brittani Burnham said...

I was supposed to see this yesterday but we had a blizzard. lol. I'm going tonight and I can't wait. Great review!

Anonymous said...

I saw this won a lot at the Globes. It's out where I am very soon and having read your review of it, count me interested.

thevoid99 said...

@Brittani-Thank you. I'm glad you were able to enjoy it.

@vinnieh-See it, it's a film that manages to says a lot about humanity as well as the need to do what is right no matter how fucked up we are.

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