Written By: Nigel Asipa
If I can compliment a film with at least 5 adjectives, more than likely it’s etched in my membrane, there to be championed to as many folks as possible who are willing to listen.
Any film worth remembering provokes a mixture of emotions out of you; laughs, cries, interest, shock, awe. And any film that has a strong or unique story with equally unique characters, should resonate with you in a way that’s either self-reflective or empathetic or ideally both.
Irish playwright Martin McDonagh’s latest offering is such a film. Ever since the red band trailer dropped some months ago, I was already psyched. Three Billboards managed the impressive feat of having a range of responses from me, from nervous laughter to unexpectedly crying to consistent intrigue. I was mesmerised by the bold, profane and at times delicate script as we’re given a host of characters that are either unruly or difficult but remained sympathetic and captivating all the same.
We see Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) driving down Drinkwater road one afternoon and she spots three unused billboards that hasn’t been used in many years (a fine little detail we see is one of the billboards says ‘worth stopping for’). She sits fidgeting for a bit, contemplating on what they could be used for. She heads down to the Ebbing advertising company ran by Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) to negotiate the terms on how to advertise and how much it is to advertise the billboards. She intends to use them for at least a year and for what she intends the billboards to say, Red is quickly sympathetic to her cause by saying “you must be Angela Hayes’ mother”.
Angela Hayes is the recently slain daughter of Mildred. Some 7 months prior she was kidnapped, raped and burnt beyond recognition with no new developments on the case. Unsatisfied with this motion, the billboards say the following; RAPED WHILE DYING, STILL NO ARRESTS, HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?. From then on in She wages a one-woman war against the local police department by calling them for them seeming incompetence of their service. This doesn’t sit well with the rest of the community as Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) is much revered by everyone.
Something noticeable throughout Mcdonagh’s work is with all the cynicism and venom characters spew at one another, we have the vulnerability and depravity revealed in sometimes small doses but they never feel forced. It’s not a mechanic used to force us to care about people, it’s welcome in that they deal with their tragedy or luck with humour that’s brash and twisted that enables them to push through their dilemma.
The townsfolk of Ebbing had me caring for just about everyone, including the ones opposing against Mildred. There’s no clear-cut villain here (other than the scumbag or scumbags who tortured and murdered Angela). We’re shown how vengeance, rage and glee can evolve into something rather dis-compassionate. How sometimes dialling back and seeing the future of your rightful cause for inflicting your sense of justice can further down the line turn into you something dangerous and inaccessible for infamous reasons.