Hell hath no fury.
Martin McDonagh is no stranger to stories that are profane, steeped in Old Testament notions of innocence, purity and guilt or that explore the idea of revenge and redemption. Both “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths” are examples of a writer/director who is unafraid of grappling with big ideas, dark tales and doing so with a level of profanity and black humour that would terrify most others. “Three Billboards…” moves those big ideas and dark tales into the heart of small town America with results so fantastic it’s doubtful a better film will pass before your eyes all year.
Frances McDormand plays grieving mother Mildred Hayes who has lost her daughter in a violent rape and murder seven months ago. Left at home with her teenage son, Robbie, and with no support from her ex-husband she is left to deal with the loss almost entirely alone. That grief turns to rage when she concludes that the local police, specifically Chief Willoughby (Woody Harelson), are not doing enough to find her daughters killer. To give her anger a public platform and in an attempt to shame the police into action Mildred rents three billboards on the side of a seldom travelled road outside of her town and emblazons across them a message for the town; “Raped while dying”, “And still no arrests”, “How come Chief Willoughby?”. Thick black font on a blood red background the signs dominate the skyline of this remote location. This decision sets in motion a chain of events that will involve brutality, profanity, arson, revenge and a curious sort of redemption by the films conclusion.
While McDormand has already picked up a Golden Globe for her performance (tricky to argue with that decision despite how magnificent Jessica Chastain is in “Molly’s Game”…a more Oscar friendly movie perhaps?) this isn’t a film driven by just one performance, the supporting cast are simply wonderful. Harrelson as the flawed but ultimately good man is brilliant as is Sam Rockwell as the violent, drunken and racist village idiot who has somehow made it to the position of police officer.
In truth “Three Billboards…” is, like “Hostiles”, a Western. Mildred Hayes is the sort of character who wouldn’t look out of place in a John Ford picture. She is the deserted wife, the grieving mother, alone and with no help being afforded from either the townsfolk or the authorities she is driven to take matters into her own hands. Revenge runs through her veins and once she takes the decision to rent the billboards nothing can prevent her from following through on her desire. It’s also a bloody and ugly film in several places, the violence (even when comedic, as it is when Mildred challenges some teenagers outside of her son’s school) feels terrifyingly real. It’s also a film with real heart and their are moments of tenderness and regret that are as real as the violence.