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Blu-ray Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

It is really hard to blend comedy and tragedy together and do it well.  Even Shakespeare had two different kinds of plays.  It’s often easy to stray too far over the line and confuse the feel of the film altogether. However, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is one such film that gets it just right.  While it might not be easy to place it into a specific genre, the film itself never asks for a label of anything other than brilliant.

Ebbing, Missouri is a small town, the kind of town that gives you the impression that it swallows people whole, without them ever leaving its borders.  The kind of town where people are born, live, and die.  In the case of Angela Hayes, she never got the chance to leave the quiet town, brutally raped and murdered one night while walking home.  Months later, with no culprit in custody for her daughter’s killing, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), still fraught with grief and anger erects a question along three billboards not used in decades:  “Raped while dying.  And Still No Arrests?  How come, Chief Willoughby?”  The question divides the community who respect Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and enrages the police force, especially a particularly volatile officer, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell).  But Mildred’s challenge to the police department to finally solve her daughter’s murder remains there for all to see.

Thus starts a battle between Mildred and the Ebbing police force that, especially with mama’s boy Dixon’s mother influencing his every move, becomes increasingly violent.  Residents of the town get caught in the drama, especially Mildred’s son (Lucas Hedges), the man who rents the billboards (Caleb Landry Jones) and Willoughby’s wife (Abbie Cornish).  On the outskirts is James (Peter Dinklage) who just wants to take Mildred out on a date.  It’s an increasingly interesting cast of characters that make up the town’s residents, each with their own complexity.

Frances McDormand, always reliable, really sinks her teeth into the role of Mildred.  As a woman possessed by both grief and guilt over the loss of her daughter, she is believable in her anger yet remains sympathetic despite some of her violent acts.  No easy feat.  But her real brilliance doesn’t always come in the moments where her anger bubbles over, but in the quiet moments of reflection and emotion, she portrays.  It’s one of her best performances and one that likely will vault her into the awards arena this year.

A grand supporting turn by Woody Harrelson is also on display, earnest and sincere as the town’s chief of police, though it’s Sam Rockwell who truly shines here.  Sure, at first it seems like Sam Rockwell is just playing typical Sam Rockwell, but in Three Billboards, he manages to be nothing short of sensational.  Rockwell has always had a knack for comedic timing in darker roles and he gets to exercise these muscles here as well as performing the character with the largest transition on screen.  You love to hate him and then just love him all the same.

Part of the genius at work here also stems from the obvious history between the characters who have clearly known each other for years.  Their dynamic is such that while anger simmers on the surface, genuine concern and feelings for one another are still present beneath.  It allows for another layer of complexity within the film.  This small town, is still family, despite everything else that has happened.  As is stated in the film, “Hate never solved nothin’”.  And at its core, the film really is a lot about love, and forgiveness both internal and external.

Academy Award winner Martin McDonagh has written and directed himself a film that merges many emotions, themes and genres and it all seamlessly works in a way that feels strangely innate.  Part drama, part mystery and definitely part comedy (complete with a take on Laurel and Hardy), each has a place to shine here.  It could easily have not worked – but his well-written dialogue and developed characters allow it to feel seamless.  It may just be McDonagh’s best work yet.  Sorry In Bruges fans, but after seeing this one you just may have a new allegiance.

• Crucify ’Em: The Making of Three Billboards
• Six Shooter (Short Film)
• Gallery
• Trailers

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri_Crucify Em_Mildreds Radicalization from Organic Publicity on Vimeo.

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