Guest CINECITY Reviewer: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

26 November 2017

“This is a film that strongly relies on visual metaphors to express its themes, a stark contrast to modern blockbusters that spout out line after line of expositional dialogue. More filmmakers should consider McDonagh’s style as a lesson in how to create stories through environments and objects.”

– Oliver Pendlington, one of our CINECITY 2017 volunteers, guest reviews our opening night film.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Director: Martin McDonagh
Screenplay: Martin McDonagh
Rating: 5/5

Three Billboards, Martin McDonagh’s latest black comedy, had the honour of opening this year’s CineCity film festival. And judging from the applause it garnered when it finished, it has already sealed its place as one of the best films of this year. From its opening that unveils Mildred’s plan to its unexpected ending, it will likely be talked about in years to come and it will become a major awards contender come January. For McDonagh, in the same vein as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, has crafted a hilarious and heart-breaking film that touches upon numerous themes still sadly prevalent in modern times.

Perhaps McDonagh’s greatest skill is how he lets the visuals tell the story. Ebbing is a tiny run-down town with locals who wouldn’t have been too far removed from a Coen Brothers film like Fargo (which must have been a key inspiration). Its landscapes convey a sense of bewildering beauty that contrasts with the ugly tensions stimulated by Mildred’s actions. Anger and guilt are the two dominant themes conveyed, from the bright red Mildred chooses to paint on the billboards to the dreary blue clothes she mostly wears. This is a film that strongly relies on visual metaphors to express its themes, a stark contrast to modern blockbusters that spout out line after line of expositional dialogue. More filmmakers should consider McDonagh’s style as a lesson in how to create stories through environments and objects.

Of course, that’s not to say the dialogue is less important in telling the story. It is extremely well-written by McDonagh and brought convincingly to life by the superb acting of a brilliant cast. There is not a single faulty performance among them. Woody Harrelson brings nuanced warmth as the veteran well-respected police chief who quietly sees the good in everyone around him. Meanwhile, Sam Rockwell’s amazing turn as bigoted deputy Jason Dixon has the strongest character arc, gradually maturing from a horrible racist to a sympathetic underachiever who just wants to prove himself. But the standout star is naturally Frances McDormand as Mildred, a bereaved and cantankerous matriarch determined to avenge her daughter. It is hard to imagine anyone else who can go from being grief-stricken in one scene to spouting out comical obscenity-filled insults the next. It is her best role since Fargo and one that all awards ceremonies should consider.

All these characters are so vividly brought to life because they are key to driving the film’s cleverly-constructed plot. McDonagh plays with our expectations and throws in many twists that completely change how the narrative will go. We laugh and cry with these characters because their actions are completely unpredictable. Nowhere is this more evident than a pivotal scene where Dixon makes a discovery that could provide some hope for Mildred after all. And in a finale that ends on a wonderful ambiguity rather similar to Casablanca, we are left satisfied wondering over what these characters will do next rather than their future actions being shown to us. – Oliver Pendlington

Oliver Pendlington is one of our CINECITY 2017 volunteers.

 

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