Monday, October 16, 2017

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI - BFI London Film Festival 2017 - Closing Night Gala

With THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, writer-director Martin McDonagh (IN BRUGES) has created a genuinely surprising, slow-paced character drama that's also scattered with his trademark dark, filthy humour. But don't be fooled by the trailer that's basically a "best of" some of the funniest bits. This is a much slower, darker and in some senses profound drama that he's created before, and to my mind, all the better for it. 

The starting point of the film is that Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand - FARGO) is angry the local police have not found the man that brutally raped and murdered her daughter Angela. In a fit of frustration and pique, she hires three old billboards outside of the town on a little-used road and puts up a provocative sign asking for justice from police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson - WOTPOTA). This sets of a series of events that seem to spiral out of control in a tat for tat revenge plot.  It pits Mildred against Willoughby and his stupid racist deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell - MOON) and Dixon against the poor schmuck who sold Mildred the billboard space (Caleb Landry Jones - TWIN PEAKS) and the town against Mildred.  As her violent ex-husband's hapless young girlfriend points out, violence begets violence. And that's the point when Mildred (and we) realise that the point of the film isn't to find out who did it, and to apportion blame, but to get to a point where we can just let it go.

I loved this film for three reasons. First, as with all McDonagh films, there's a strand of nasty humour that I absolutely adore. Second, McDormand's performance is genuinely award-worthy - not simply for the angry swearing but for the profound pain that underlies it, and invokes our sympathy even as she does selfish, near-unhinged things. Third, I am so rarely surprised by cinema, but this movie totally surprised me three times.  It took characters and events in directions I couldn't have predicted but which made sense and surprised me. I have real respect for authors who can take a character that I initially hate and turn my opinion around and that's what happened here - and it was utterly satisfying. 

So a great film - if deeper and darker and more considered in its pacing than McDonagh's previous work. This may disappoint some fans but I hope they appreciate it for the layered and disturbing but ultimately hopeful work that it is. 

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI has a running time of 115 minutes and is rated R. The movie played Venice, London and Toronto 2017. It opens in the USA on November 10th; in Australia and New Zealand on January 1st; in Italy, Spain and the UK on January 12th; in Argentina, Germany and Singapore on January 25th; in Philippines on February 14th; and in France on February 28th. 

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