Oscar Week Film Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri proves just a little too problematic, despite Frances McDormand’s excellent work

“All this anger, man, it just begets greater anger”

The backlash against Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri doesn’t seem to have got in the way of its award-winning chances. But upon watching it for myself and enjoying it for the most part, equally I couldn’t escape the sense of how problematic it is in the way in tackles – or rather doesn’t tackle – class and race in the rural US.

For every statement from Martin McDonagh about the ‘deliberately messy and difficult’ nature of his film, there’s a refusal to explore the real ramifications of the behaviour contained therein, particularly the racist criminality of cop Dixon who is never really called to account for what he does. And in today’s world, in today’s America, that really isn’t good enough.

The film is anchored by a barnstorming performance by Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, a grieving mother who calls out the local police department for their failure to solve the rape and murder of her daughter. As she exercises her anger by renting the titular billboards, she kickstarts a brutal reckoning, and one that is somehow wrapped up in a black comedy (too black IMHO when it comes to the way it presents dwarfism).

We’re very much in the world of tragicomedy here and McDonagh pulls off several gobsmacking twists and turns smashing heightened comedy against terrible tragedy. And whilst its refusal to back down from portraying the ugliness of the world is commendable on the one hand, on the other it comes too close to reinforcing it. 

Photograph: Merrick Morton/AP

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