Thursday, December 7, 2017


Forget about your kick-ass super-heroines. Mildred, the middle-aged mother at the center of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, doesn't have magic, bullet-repelling bracelets or jiu-jitsu training.

All she's got is a spectacularly vulgar mouth, a fearless take-no-prisoners attitude, and a relentless drive to see justice done — whatever the cost to her family, her community, or her own shaky reputation.

As portrayed with steely grit by the superb Frances McDormand, Mildred is a one-woman Justice League out to avenge the murder of her teenage daughter. That she has a few demons of her own to exorcise along the way deepens her character and the story in this third layered and complex morality play from Anglo-Irish playwright-turned-filmmaker Martin McDonagh.

As in his previous films (the extraordinary In Bruges, and Seven Psychopaths), McDonagh mixes raucously funny dialogue and irreverent observation of human nature and foibles with an uncompromising (and often surprising) sense of morality.

He also likes to keep us guessing about who are the bad guys, who are the good guys, and what — if anything — separates them.

It's been long months since her daughter was raped and murdered in the rural town of Ebbing, and Mildred (McDormand) is still incensed that no suspects have ever been found and the case has gone cold. When she notices three dilapidated billboards along what was once the main road into town, she pays to have signage put up demanding action from the town police chief, Willoughby (a terrific Woody Harrelson).

This has a divisive effect on the townsfolk: everyone sympathizes with Mildred's loss, but nobody agrees with her confrontational tactic of blaming the hard-working Willoughby.

Another actress might choose to chomp on the scenery with extra relish and hot sauce, given such extravagant material. But McDormand commands the material, instead, by playing Mildred small and close. Her volatility — and her vulnerability — are always right below the surface, but she rarely even has to raise her voice.

The rest of the cast is just as impressive, including Sam Rockwell as a dimbulb, yet hothead deputy, Lucas Hedges as Mildred's loyal, but embarrassed son, and Peter Dinklage as a sympathetic local with a crush on Mildred.

McDormand vs Harrelson and Rockwell: Justice League
 A more conventional filmmaker might also try to frame this story as more of a traditional mystery thriller, or a subversive black comedy — or possibly both. But throw your expectations out the window, because McDonagh isn't interested in making a typical genre movie.

Nothing get tied up with a neat bow, here. However marginal his characters, or dire their circumstances, what interests him above all else is the universal quest for redemption — in whatever oddball form it might take. (Read more)

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