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London Film Festival Review: Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri – “A masterpiece”

The London Film Festival closing film is Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri and they really did save the best for last with this incredible tale of grit and determination.

Frances McDormand plays the mother of a young woman who we learn was raped and murdered seven months previously. There have been no arrests made in the case and she’s losing hope that anybody will ever be held accountable. So, when she passes three unused billboards on the outskirts of town, she decides to rent them and pose – in no uncertain terms – the question ‘Why?’ to the police officers, she fears have given up.

Instead of rallying to her cry for help, many locals take issue with her supposed disrespect of law enforcement. Yet, in the face of harassment and hatred, she keeps going. And then people start to take the law into their own hands, blaming not just her but also the company who let her rent the billboards and anybody who might have taken her side in the matter.

Three Billboards is a stunning mix of darkness and humour: hilarious and terrifying, unsettling and fun, badass and emotional. It somehow switches between gut-wrenching and delightfully light – and back again – yet it never jars or feels out of place.

Racism, homophobia, ignorance, hatred, persecution, bullying: these are all explored within the film without it ever feeling preachy. There are very serious moments in the film that are undercut by a moment of silliness and yet somehow this doesn’t lessen the impact. If anything, it only adds to it because when certain elements seem oddly sidelined it just adds to the general message of indifference. It makes you angry, makes you want action. But when nothing is delivered, it only adds to the fuel.

McDormand has never been better or more impressive. She mixes beautiful comedic timing with utter rage-fuelled despair and delivers some of the best film dialogue I have heard in a very long time with such class that certain moments got a round of applause.

Each member of the supporting cast, which includes Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell, brings their own charm and loathing to these multi-faceted characters. Rockwell plays a wholly unlikeable character with whom we can still somehow connect, despite his many many flaws. Woody Harrelson plays the police chief struggling with the negative press of this particular case whilst facing a terminal illness and there’s so much heart and rawness to his performance that you really feel everything he feels.

(And yes, the Rockwell dances – albeit briefly, and only for a head and shoulders shot.)

With this film, Martin McDonagh has written and directed a story that is a master class in filmmaking. The performances are jaw-droppingly good and the commentary on the world and what it is to be human is sublime. The film, in itself, is clever and entertaining, bold and impressive. Added to this, however, is an extra layer of thought-provoking detail. It feels like the kind of film that would only improve on rewatch. There is so much depth to every scene, every part of the plot and every single character that I can imagine dissertations being written about the absolute genius of the piece.

A masterpiece – and one that deserves all the awards!

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