Martin McDonagh’s past two features, In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, were notable for their odd comedic elements and ridiculous stories, and while his newest film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri shares some similar qualities, it’s his darkest and most disturbing film by far. There’s a decent amount of very dark humor surrounding a very heartbreaking and timely story, and yet despite the film’s overall grim nature, there are moments of hope and empathy that stand out by their diminutive statues.
Several months following the death of her daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) buys the rights to put up three local billboards in protest to what she sees as indifference from the police department. The billboards cause a local media storm, ensnaring the attention of the local police captain (Woody Harrelson) and his dimwitted assistant (Sam Rockwell). McDormand is at her most gritty here, giving a no holds-barre performance of contained rage, yet it’s Sam Rockwell’s redemptive story arc that’s the film’s strongest beat.
I don’t think I could ever watch Three Billboards Outside, Ebbing Missouri again; it’s a fascinating deconstruction of the ways in which justice is and should be served, and despite it’s often humorous moments, it’s a deeply disturbing film that’s pitched with only rare moments of optimism. Yet, there’s something extremely unique about the film, something that got under my skin, a quality that’s rare in any film, and the film’s emotional machine of rage and empathy is something that will be discussed for quite some time. Grade: A