Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Fierce Frances McDormand commands this dark, sad story.

Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. - VIA IMDB
via IMDB
Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Frances McDormand won the Academy Award for her portrayal of Marge Gunderson in Fargo, an—this is the correct usage of this word—iconic performance of uncommon warmth in a typically cold Coen brothers film set in the deep snow of Minnesota.

But she's at her best when she's being a fierce bitch—think Olive Kitteridge, her disgruntled Jane in Friends with Money, even her vocal appearance on The Simpsons as a teacher who believed in gender segregation.

Stubborn, righteous fury is at the centre of her monster turn in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, as Mildred, the mother of a murder victim whose case has gone cold. It's still fresh for her, so she buys a series of billboards on an underused road in Ebbing: "Raped while dying / And still no arrests? / How come, Chief Willoughby?" Willoughby is played with typical bemusement by Woody Harrelson, who is angered by the ads but has compassion for this grieving mom. A problem is his racist deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a functional idiot prone to intense violence. (This being a Martin McDonagh production, there's lots of that, sudden and scary and shocking.)

Ebbing is a small town and everyone knows everyone else's business. Mildred's actions shake the whole place up, having repercussions even she doesn't expect. For a story built on deep darkness Three Billboards is also incredibly funny, often within those black moments, a McDonagh (In Bruges) hallmark. McDormand rips into this rich material, a broken woman fighting for all she believes is right, even when it's not. It's one of the year's best performances, in one of the year's best movies.


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