Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Dir: Martin McDonagh
The McDonagh brothers don’t make many films but when they do they make them count. In Bruges was a wonderfully refreshing silly black-comedy but it was made in 2008 and its fans have been waiting for a follow up ever since. I liked 2012’s Seven Psychopaths but it never quite lived up to In Bruges’ originality and madcap originality. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri however is Martin McDonagh real masterpiece. Drawing from his theatrical experience as well as his movie-making skills, McDonagh has created a strange neo-western/neo-noir mystery/thriller/comedy-revenge film that is fairly difficult to label. I doesn’t need labeling though, and that’s what I love about it. There is certainly something ‘Coen Brothers’ about it, not only because it stars Coen regular (and Joel’s Wife) Frances McDormand, but because it has that certain witty irreverence to classical formula that the Brothers’ Coen developed. It’s no tribute or copy though, this is straight from the wonderful mind of McDonagh. He came up with the idea after driving through a small town somewhere ‘down in the Georgia, Florida, Alabama corner’. McDonagh saw these billboards that were making a point of an unsolved crime and has since stated that "the rage that put a bunch of billboards like that up was palpable and stayed with me”. The idea is based on real billboards but the story itself is a work of fiction with most of the characters written for specific actors. Frances McDormand is phenominal in the lead role, a part she almost didn’t accept as she was concered she was the wrong age for it. Thankfully her husband Joel told her to stop over-thinking it and she accepted. Much like McDonagh and his brother, McDormand doesn’t make a lot of films but when she does she makes it count. I would say this was her best performance since Fargo. Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, Zeljko Ivanek and Sam Rockwell have all worked with McDonagh before – they’re all pros, but they have all seemed to have gelled with the director in a way many actors don’t after just one film together. McDonagh reportedly wrote many of the characters with these actors in mind. It is clearly a two-way development and a method that clearly works. Harrelson, Cornish, Zeljko and Rockwell are all brilliant, as our fellow cast members Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges and Caleb Landry Jones (who is the only person so far – apart from Brendan Gleeson – who has been directed by both of the McDonagh brothers). The performances are all very different, indeed, the film feels like it is full of contradictions. Sam Rockwell learned that Frances McDormand had decided that she’d base her performance on John Wayne, specifically his character in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, so he decided to base his on Wayne’s co-star Lee Marvin, as he wanted their characters to be the exact opposite to each other. It shouldn’t work, but somehow McDormand’s haunted mother of a murdered girl works alongside Rockwell’s inept local policeman. Woody Harrelson described the films as a mix of Super Troopers and Seven Psychopaths, which is extremely accurate – although McDonagh’s love of Nicolas Roeg is evident once more. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is both extremely dark and extremely funny. It is essentially a dark comedy of errors that dips into pretty much every genre you can think of without ever being predictable in any way. It would be excruciating if it wasn’t so damn funny. It’s as sharp as a knife and shocking in places but without being shocking for the sake of it. Everything has a purpose, it accentuates the important aspects of the film without speaking down to the audience – far from it. It almost parodies classic film formula, without ever feeling that different (if that makes any sense?). The ending may frustrate some but for me it highlights what is important about storytelling and how it should be read as well as approached. I really hope he doesn’t take as long to release his next film, as modern cinema needs film makers like McDonagh – badly!