Jan 14, 2018

Review: THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI (dir. McDonagh)


'In  Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Frances McDormand plays Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who has rented three billboards attacking the local police chief  Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for what she sees as his inaction in her daughter’s case. “Raped while dying”; “And still no arrests?”; “How come, Chief Willoughby?” Such is the starting point for Martin McDonagh’s pitch-black revenger’s comedy — imagine Dirty Harry as written by Samuel Beckett and you’re close. The playwright-turned-director of In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths McDonagh a gift for gallows humor that catches in your throat. The police chief turns out to be a  sturdy, decent man played by Woody Harrelson who also happens to be dying of cancer. Might she rethink the billboards?  “They wouldn’t be so effective after you croak, right?” she replies. McDormand says she based the performance on John Wayne and it shows. Dressed in overalls and bandana, her face stony with grief, her eyes narrow with accusation, Mildred marches into scenes with such freedom from giving a rat’s ass — she kicks one of her son’s female classmates in the groin and even firebombs the police station — the effect is thrilling. Not just any avenging mother, she turns Mildred into the avenging mother, a figure risen from the  angry, disenfranchised,  Trump-voting, rural unconscious (though the film’s politics skew left). “How’s it all going in the nigger-torturing business, Dixon?” Mildred asks the police’s departments in-house racist,  Dixon (Sam Rockwell),  a  dim-witted screw-up who lives with his mother and jives listening to Abba’s “Chiquitita” on his walkman — a blissful turn from Rockwell, who duly corrects her  “That’s the person-of-color-torturing business these days.” McDonaugh can seemingly write this stuff by the yard: zesty, profane dialogue between prickly, quarrelsome characters bound in mutual exasperation, nipping and biting like ferrets in a bag. Scene by scene, the movie snarls with viperish life, although there are one too many clever-clever jokes about the characters’ sub-literacy — Wilde is quoted,“hard of hearing” mistaken for “hard of reading” and so on. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri may be McDonagh’s most satisfying film to date, but the London-born playwright’s bard-of-the-Ozarks ventriloquism isn’t exact, and his construction hasn’t shed all traces of the stage. The violence escalates and explodes, leaving the town in flames, but he chooses to end with a shaggy-dog shrug rather than a note of catharsis or release. A better sense of landscape might have helped: here, you barely notice it. But McDormand’s Mildred is one for the ages. She doesn’t want catharsis or release.  She’s still out there still, putting up billboards, putting fear into the wicked.' — from my Sunday Times review

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