Martin McDonagh has captured the attention of critics and movie lovers alike, despite a relatively brief stint within the industry. McDonagh burst onto the scene with his eloquently-constructed 2008 hitman comedy, In Bruges, only to follow it up with the equally impressive and wacky dog-napping comedy, Seven Psychopaths. But in a wide open year such as this, McDonagh’s latest small-town crime comedy, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, may be his ticket to the awards season’s biggest dance.
It’s been seven months since Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has heard from police regarding the violent rape and murder of her daughter. Desperate to keep the story relevant and with hopes that the attention will lead to an arrest of her daughter’s killer, Mildred rents a trio of billboards alongside a small-town road that question the efforts of local law enforcement and their superior officer, Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). But when a volatile mama’s boy, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), loses his cool over the billboards, tensions escalate quickly in the town of Ebbing, Missouri.
Three Billboards thrives on explosive humor and a timely examination of local law enforcement officers all across the country. And rather than crumbling to the divisive politicizing of speaking in false extremes, McDonagh accurately depicts the wide spectrum of policing, addressing both respectable and deplorable behaviors, as well as the stunningly beautiful ability to change. Therein lies the film’s greatest strength. And as the year’s end creeps closer and closer, most of the industry’s attention will be placed on the sorrowfully-effective performance from lead actress Frances McDormand. Even in a crowded year for female roles, she should certainly land a nomination and quite possibly an Oscar win as well. Yet, it’s supporting star Sam Rockwell who leaves a lasting impression beyond compare. While the brilliant performer has somehow managed to avoid singular recognition from any of the Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild and the Academy Awards, that’s all about to change. Measuring up to and surpassing anything you’ve enjoyed him in before, Rockwell’s portrayal of a short-tempered and unethical small-town cop who backlashes against the woman responsible for these unfair billboards is something to savor. All of these wonderful performances are born from a hilariously amusing screenplay and superb direction that help solidify Three Billboards as one of 2017’s strongest films.
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