Written and Directed by: Martin McDonagh
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, John Hawkes, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage
Runtime: 115 min
The movie with the biggest title of 2017 (I think?!) tells the story of how Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) handles her daughter's murder, which still does not have any suspect after several months. She pays for three billboards with a clear message to the chief of Ebbing's police, William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson).
Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), a violence-driven officer and close friend of William, join the fight against Mildred and a very dark comic drama unfolds.
One of the films I am only now getting the chance to watch due to its late Portugal's release and it is also one of the few movies I still have some big expectations for it to be part of my list featuring the best films of 2017 ... Well, I can spoil you right away: it is definitely part of my top10! You can check my updated list here!
I will start with what I think is the movie's strongest point: its screenplay. Martin McDonagh exceptionally elevates the story and flawlessly balances the film's several tones, from very dark mysterious drama to simple comedy. I mean, this movie really has everything: drama, comedy, mystery, extremely shocking scenes, suspenseful dialogues, incredible character development and plot twists that kept me constantly focused on the screen. It is superbly written, it has no crappy exposition scenes and it offers something to the viewer that films rarely do: doubt.
I can't possibly count the moments where I switched in favor of a character instead of another. The storytelling is really thought-provoking and I both supported and repressed every single character's actions at some period during the movie. This film causes uncertainty in relation to who should I support? Who belongs to the "good side" and the "bad side" of this whole thing? Everyone's point of view has reasons to be more than understandable, every character is amazingly well-developed and every scene is filled with so much tension and suspense, but also with a lot of heartfelt and compelling moments.
The story plays out like I never thought it would. There are so many minor plot twists, either related to a character or to the main script, that are utterly mind-blowing. They all make perfect sense, there is never a loose thread and every character's choices are justified with creative storytelling, which takes the movie to a whole other level. McDonagh also does a spectacular job as the director ...
Fantastic one-take scenes that raise the tension up a notch, a brilliant use of the realistic cinematography and an excellent use of some unusual camera angles. The editing is seamless, the pacing is handled to perfection without a single dull moment or a misplaced scene and the score is genuinely addictive. Furthermore, the feeling of watching two different films is never present due to the wonderfully balanced tone and for a movie with so much shocking drama, I left the theater with so many great laughs because the tonal shifts are perfectly executed.
Moving on to the cast, Frances McDormand, my God. How can someone be so badass? She is awesome! No wonder she is nominated for Best Actress at every award show, she clearly deserves it. A terrific performance with a range of expressions that go beyond most actors' capabilities, astonishingly well-balanced emotions (she goes through a lot of dramatic, comic and emotional scenes) that she nails in a McDormand-way.
Mildred Hayes is one of the most strong and powerful characters of 2017, period. She has to deal with so much and she stands her ground vigorously. In a way, she is a role model for every single person out there: if you believe you are doing the right thing, then do it and do not let anyone stand in your way or change your mind ... Just don't do some more aggressive stuff that she does, I don't think you would get away from some good jail time.
However, a few times she does become the "villain". She has no idea what other people are going through, but the movie always tries to justify her impulsive violent reactions with what she is suffering from. So, when the tables turn, she is also "culpable" (as she says in the film at some point) of both her and, for example, Bill Willoughby's actions, who is passionately interpreted by Woody Harrelson.
Harrelson has one of his best heartfelt and emotional performances ever. Bill's personal issues are the most shocking subplot of the movie and Woody handles his character's grounded yet funny personality in such a compelling way. Bill's choices lead to consequences that converge in an unconventional path and it is truly something that ultimately drives the movie to the remarkable story that it possesses.
Sam Rockwell is also receiving a bunch of nominations and he undoubtedly works for those. Jason Dixon is the character that goes through more personality changes due to all of the bizarre things that happen in the story and it is very hard for an actor to start as one character and basically end with a totally different one. Rockwell embodies Dixon and completely transforms this character. Once again, the scripts are phenomenal (for every character), but the cast takes them and turns them into something special.
In case you are wondering, no. Peter Dinklage (James) is not in the film just to receive a pay-check. No one is. Every single character that is introduced into the story is very well-developed and they all have an important share of the runtime. Dinklage nails his performance, as well as Lucas Hedges (Robbie) and Caleb Landry Jones (Red Welby).
I only have a couple of minor issues with the film. Every act is strong on its own, each having their jaw-dropping moments. However, the third act finishes with an ending that I don't appreciate that much. I can't be detailed, but I don't think McDonagh had just one ending in his mind, I am just a bit disappointed that he chose this one, which is still a great ending!
My other issue has to do with the only character that simply does not fit in the movie's environment: Penelope (Samara Weaving). This character is not needed and it is so annoying. Her cliche stupid personality is the only element in the entire movie that simply does not make any sense. Fortunately, she is only on the screen for a few scenes. Weaving is not bad or good, she just suffers from the character she has to portray.
All in all, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is as amazing as the length of its title. Martin McDonagh produces a multi-genre, thought-provoking screenplay with excellent pacing and tone control. He is also brilliant as the director, using long takes and the realistic setting to its advantage, making the movie even better and still counting with a memorable score. All-star performances from Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell take the movie to a whole other level, but with an ending that is not as great as it could be plus an annoying character (Penelope) that thankfully does not share much of the screentime.