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  • Denise Breen

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - all of humanity is on view in this nod to Moby Dick


If you have seen the trailer for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, you know the basic plot. At face value, it is a simple tale of a grieving, angry mother who feels that after nine months of what she perceives as inaction by the local town police following the murder of her daughter, she decides to try to embarrass them into action using the three billboards.

This is Martin McDonagh's fourth time in the director's chair and his third as writer. His earlier films include the excellent dark comedy In Bruges which starred our own Brendan Gleeson, Colin Farrell and Voldemort himself, Ralph Fiennes.

Martin McDonagh understands humanity and he has an unerring ability to write human stories, to help us see the good, the bad, the anger, the regret, the sadness that each of us can inflict upon our fellow humans. I don't want to give too much away, but the film and the story run much deeper and provide a study of what is means to be human, than the trailer might suggest. As characters realise and understand the consequences of, and in a lot of cases, the unintended consequences of their actions, we see the brilliance of McDonagh's script. With lessons from Moby Dick, we see how revenge can back-fire.

The cast is superb. Frances McDormand once again, gives an outstanding performance. Her ability to convey meaning without using words, to act with her body, or a small gesture is astounding. For example, when she pulls up to look at the old disused billboards, there is no narration, however with a couple of small gestures; chewing her finger nail, stroking her chin, we, the audience know what she is thinking. She is a strong contender for the Oscars later this year.

Woody Harrelson continues to surprise me. I've never been a huge fan until I saw True Detective. That performance won me over. He play Chief Willoughby of the Ebbing police force with a rare humanity which may be borne of the cross he has to carry in the film. McDonagh subtly strips away the small town police chief trope and reveals a damaged, sick human whose own story turns out to be a tragedy too.

I liked Sam Rockwell in Duncan Jones' Moon. In Three Billboards his character is slimy, disgusting, a bigot who has allegedly tortured black people in the police cell. His character is reprehensible and built up by McDonagh such that the audience have zero pity for him and what befalls him. Rockwell is fantastic in the role and deserves a nomination during award season. He is a truly detestable character without a single redeeming characteristic, until McDonagh upends the whole story.

Without saying too much, McDonagh's has an amazing ability to make his audience feel one thing and then draw back the curtain of supposed understanding to reveal the true nature of humanity.

I know it's only January, 2018. I don't believe I will see a finer film this year.

5 out of 5.


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