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Tagline: “Day of the woman.”
Premise: A grieving mother whose daughter was murdered rents three rural billboards outside her small town in order to display messages shaming the local police for not catching the killer.
Delivery: The premise of Three Billboards comes nowhere near to indicating quite how funny the film is. If anything, reading the premise, one might wonder how a subject this dark could be made funny. Well, as you'll read in every single review, it is, “darkly funny”. Or what I just call “funny”. I'll come full circle on my point here but suffice to say for me, the humour is expertly executed, vital, and fitting. Writer/ director Martin McDonagh is a playwright whose short film Six Shooter earned him a feature debut, the very funny and off the wall In Bruges. He also once drunkenly called Sean Connery a cunt, which is pretty hilarious too.
The cast are all superb, particularly Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. I don't have space to go into each actor but it was great to see Mac's Mom from It's Always Sunny (Sandy Martin) on screen, if slightly typecast as Mac's Mom. Frances McDormand is absolutely brilliant from scene one, an utter show stealer, and Sam Rockwell gives a very nuanced performance in a roll that has drawn criticism. Worryingly, not for playing a character with a history of racist beatings, but because the film-makers dared to show a caring and human side to that character, which astounds me. Some people only want black and white. Shades of grey, (i.e. the real world) just mess with their equilibrium.
A lot of Three Billboards is about frustration with the police; Ebbing's local police department being a microcosm of the police force writ large. It's hard not to side with McDormand's angry and devastated Mildred. Anyone who doesn’t at least identify with why people might hate the police is either a police officer or grew up in Holland. But as it the way of Three Billboards, there are layers, complexities and caveats. Even Harrelson's largely likeable Chief Willoughby only half joking says, “If you got rid of every cop with vaguely racist leanings, you’d only have three cops, and all of them would hate the fags.” Of course what Three Billboards is really saying is there are as many good police as bad. There aren’t, but I'll leave it at that.
Much like In Bruges- though more so, Three Billboards has a very human pathos, a deep sadness. Deeper even than many dramas. I use pathos deliberately as the sadness is the gateway to the humour, to much humour. Especially so when dealing with death, and that really is what this film does so brilliantly. We use humour as a way out of the darkness. Or at least we do in my family. It is as much of a crutch, and aid, in times of despair as love and support. In fact it's part of it, and that is why for me it works so well in Three Billboards. Mildred and her family are dealing with the horrible facts of a premature, violent death and that's impossible to ignore even with the laughs. I'm not ashamed to admit in places I was laughing with tears in my eyes. Three Billboards is so wonderfully human it'll make you feel alive. Brilliant cinema.
Bedsit it? Get down to the cinema and see Three Billboards ASAP, you'll laugh, you'll cry, and if you don't you're a hollow soulless monster and you're reading the wrong blog. 9/10
PS- tagline actually from I Spit On Your Grave. Well done to anyone who noticed its being out of place.