Dark, Relevant, Comedic: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

In Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a mother (Frances McDormand) personally challenges the local authorities, by putting up three billboards outside of the town of Ebbing, Missouri, to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit.

Filmmaker Martin McDonagh is well known for his well-written dark comedies such as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, but Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is yet another step up and a new milestone for him. After a rape and murder of a local girl, her mother decides to put up three billboards in a call to action for the town’s slacking law enforcers. It then turns into a long and hard struggle with the rest of the town, as everyone seems to be in favour of the Chief of Police Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). It is quite clear why this film got seven Oscar nominations for this year’s Academy Awards. It is a near perfect film with a well-written script, in-depth subtext to take the story a step further, outstanding performances from all the actors and spot-on editing.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

What starts off as something between a basic dark comedy and a drama quickly turns into a much more complex film. With subplots, subtext and relevant social commentary on themes such as the overall lack of law enforcement we feel all around the world at the moment, how two wrongs won’t make a right, and how you can’t fight fire with fire (quite literally in one of the scenes in the film). The movie also deals with themes of loss, tragedy and grief, and how the modern world and society teaches us to deal with it; most of the time to strike back with vengeance. The film opens up a lot of questions about how we generally deal with anger, revenge, violence and kindness, and how cropped up anger and hate can destroy you.

The characters are each well written and developed in a very realistic manner, each with their own dark side and good side, in a way rarely seen in films nowadays. It shows us how we can all flip 180 degrees when we are pushed to our extremes, for better or for worse. Throughout the film it feels as if we deal with real emotions — nothing feels sugarcoated or false — which leaves the viewer with a deep emotional impact. Even the comedic moments that bring forth McDonagh’s dark comedy are all motivated by the characters’ emotions and attributes. Credit should be given to all the actors in this film, but a special mention to the outstanding and extremely convincing performances by Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell. We get to know and sympathise with each character in this film to such an extent that it later feels as if we know them personally.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Oversensitive viewers might criticise the film for how it deals with harsh subject matter, but at the same time, despite still being a dark comedy, light was shined on very important aspects that society is dealing with at the moment. In the very own words of Mildred, the mother to the murdered daughter: “…if you join one of these gangs, and you’re running with ’em, and down the block one night, unbeknownst to you, […] shoot up a place or stab a guy, well then, even though you didn’t know nothing about it, and even though you may have just been standing on a streetcorner minding your own business, what these new laws said was you’re still culpable. You’re still culpable, by the very act of joining those Crips, or those Bloods, in the first place.”

Expect a lot of swearing, violence, wisdom, and laughs from this film. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri gets my vote for Best Picture at this year’s Oscars. Definitely make a plan to get yourself in the cinema for this one.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is written and directed by Martin McDonagh, and stars Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, and Sam Rockwell. It’s in South African cinemas from 23 February.

Willem van den Heever

Willem is a cinephile, so naturally a bit of a film critic. He’s been called a Neil Blomkamp fan and to grow the fuck up for criticizing an Alien film. He makes films (short ones for now), take photos and sometimes write about those films he hopes to make one day.

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