Dark, cynical and unexpectedly funny, Three Billboards is a lesson in letting go.
Boasting a superb cast of Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson (and directed by the fantastic Martin McDonagh), it’s fully deserved of its four Golden Globe wins.
Seven months after Angela Hayes’ brutal murder, Ebbing police department still haven’t found the culprit – and Angela’s mother, Mildred is pissed off. Searching for more than just closure, Mildred wants everyone – especially police chief Willoughby – to know just how full of hate she is.
And this is what makes Three Billboards different to other revenge films: Mildred doesn’t get any.
Throughout, we gather Mildred knows her daughter’s killer isn’t going to be brought to justice. This is evident straight from the off after Mildred buys advertising space on the three billboards leading up to her home. Why does she choose to call out the chief of police on billboards that ‘hardly anyone will see since the new freeway was built’? Because it’s a simple (and totally original) way to vent her anger while simultaneously pissing everyone off.
She doesn’t even use profanity: “I’m assuming you can’t say nothing defamatory and you can’t say fuck, piss or cunt.”
She causes chaos across the town – drilling a hole in the dentist, kicking the crotches of three dirt bag teenagers and setting the police station on fire is all in a day’s work for Mildred.
Then there’s chief Willoughby. Although ‘heartbroken’ having not found Angela’s killer, he’s dealing with pancreatic cancer and is so over punishing people (he tells Dixon to let Mildred go after her stint on TV). Sick of being treated with chemo every other day, he decides to take his own life. Inspired by Mildred’s hate-ridden antics, (he admits to paying for the boards for another month, enjoying how annoyed it makes everyone) he leaves behind suicide notes for select individuals. Inside each note he states that really, all anybody needs is love.
It’s from these notes that we begin to see change and development in each character. While trying to get out of the burning police building, Dixon grabs Angela’s case file. In hospital Red has the chance to take revenge on Dixon for beating him up, instead he offers him a straw to drink his orange juice through. On her date with James, Mildred finds out her husband set the billboards on fire. Instead of gouging his eyes out with a glass bottle, she lets it go. Finally (although it’s left up to us which ending we’d rather see), Mildred and Dixon question whether they want to kill a suspected rapist: “Not really.”
By the end, each character is (almost) purged of all hate, because it’s exhausting. It doesn’t find your daughter’s killer. It doesn’t make you feel better when you beat someone up who annoys you. It loses you your job, your family and your sanity.
After watching Three Billboards, I feel there’s no other person that could fill Mildred’s shoes as well as Frances McDormand. Intense, scary, fearless (and the only 60 year old who looks fabulous in a boiler suit), Frances is fantastic. Her no-nonsense, ball-breaking moments make her raw, emotional scenes all the more moving and special.
Plus her scenes with Dixon make for an exciting, unpredictable watch. Making Dixon stupid, yet aggressive was a nice touch – there’s nothing more dangerous than an uneducated, angry man. This combination keeps you on your toes as he’s delightfully dim, which heightens the fight scenes further. Yet his sheer stupidity diffuses these actions, along with his eventual redemption near the end of the film (encouraged by chief Willoughby and Mildred). We’re left questioning whether he’s all bad after all.
It’s also worth mentioning how great Momma Dixon and Mildred’s son, Robbie are – offering bleak, yet profound comments on life.
My only issue? Chief Willoughby’s wife. Seemingly irrelevant yet annoyingly distracting. I think I cringed myself inside out at the ‘cock talk’ scene. But, being my only ‘meh’ moment, Three Billboards is a stand out start to 2018 in film.