Director: Martin McDonagh

Cast: Frances McDormandWoody HarrelsonSam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage

What is the boundary of a mother’s rage? Exactly when does the desire for revenge become corrosive? Can grief twist a person so completely that it becomes difficult to sympathize? Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri grapples with these difficult questions. It doesn’t provide any comforting answers. Instead, it both sears your soul and leaves you unsatisfied.

This is the story of Mildred Hayes, whose daughter was brutally raped and murdered. Seven months later, all leads have gone dead. So Mildred decides to push the police into action. She rents three billboards and puts up the following messages – ‘RAPED WHILE DYING’, ‘AND STILL NO ARRESTS’, ‘HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?’ The billboards put into motion a series of events that are at once, tragic, comic, violent, tender and heartbreaking.  

This film doesn’t follow any rules of engagement. Mildred – a powerhouse, Oscar-nominated performance by Frances McDormand – is a force of nature that cannot be controlled. She will stop at nothing to get the man who did this to her daughter. At one point, she tells the Chief: pull blood from every man in the country. Mildred is past shame or scruples and doesn’t want affection or pity. She wants results.  

Mildred’s difficult quest is made harder by Dixon, an incompetent, racist cop played by a terrific Sam Rockwell. And then there is the Chief himself – a good man in an impossible situation, played with great empathy by Woody Harrelson.  

Three Billboards is the third feature directed by playwright and filmmaker Martin McDonagh. He pushes the characters as far as he can, especially Mildred, almost as if he is daring you to withdraw your sympathy. Of course McDormand makes this impossible. She is caustic and in places, frankly unlikable.

Peter Dinklage plays an admirer who gets Mildred out of a sticky situation yet she has no problem calling him midget. But her Biblical wrath is hypnotic. You might become deeply uncomfortable but you can’t look away.

What didn’t work for me was the open-ended finale. It is both unsettling and distancing and feels like a cop-out. Still this film must be seen. If only to witness the towering talent of McDormand who is almost guaranteed to pick up the Best Actress Oscar in March.

Rating:   star

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