I saw Martin McDonagh’s play The Pillow Man on Broadway back in 2005. It was a tale of a totalitarian state reminiscent of 1984. It was scary, it was funny, it was original and it was incredibly well written. When he started making movies I was excited. His first feature was In Bruges (2008) with Brenden Gleeson, Colin Ferrell and Ralph Fiennes. It was a dark comedy about hit men and the accidental killing of a child. It was funny, sad, violent and incredibly well written. I guess what I’m saying is that I think McDonagh is a great writer. His plays and films are hilarious, very dark and disturbing. I like that. But not everyone may be into it. His new film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is all the above and more. It’s a great film!
The story is simple; Mildred Hayes notices three unused billboards on her drive home one day. She inquiries about how much it would be to rent them for a year. She pays the first month and the signs go up: “RAPED WHILE DYING”, “AND STILL NO ARRESTS”, “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”
The uproar is quick and furious. Her daughter was raped, murdered and burned seven months previous and the police haven’t found the people who did it. Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) understands why she’s so upset but he claims they have no leads. The tension in the small town escalates and things spiral out of control. Mildred stands her ground to the chagrin of her teenaged son (Lucas Hodges), abusive ex-husband (John Hawkes) and the racist Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell) who seems to have no idea that cops should follow the law along with everyone else. I can’t say anymore because the twists and surprises are just too good.
This is a tough film. It’s completely open, not politically correct, hilarious and kept me on the edge of my seat until the last scene. I was laughing out loud throughout. The performances are all top notch especially Frances McDormand as Mildred. McDormand can play tough as nails as well as any man. She is badass in this film but she’s also an asshole. She may be right to act on her pain to try and get some justice for her daughter but does she go too far?
Sam Rockwell is delightfully idiotic and scary. Woody Harrelson is heartbreaking. I was delighted to see Clarke Peters (The Wire, Treme) show up in this! Zeljko Ivanek also turns in his always solid support. You’ve seen him in loads of films and TV shows. He was in the Broadway version of The Pillow Man and currently stars in Madame Secretary.
McDonagh is a fine craftsman. He takes a simple story and complicates it beautifully. The language and the characters are true and honest and may shock and make an audience uncomfortable. No punches are pulled here. It makes for an exciting and entertaining film. I expect to see many Oscar nods come January including Best Picture, Actress (McDormand), Supporting Actor (Rockwell) and McDonagh for Director and Screenplay. The Oscar race is on! McDonagh just lit the match.