Now that its swept both the Golden Globes and the BAFTAs and before it sweeps the Oscars in a couple of weeks, it’s time to sit down and talk about the hit of the award’s season and exactly why it’s so bloomin’ good. Shaun Nolan reports.

Martin McDonagh is a man most famous for his work on the stage, the kind of work that I am a massive fan of. One of his earliest hits The Pillowman is a play loved by many, but it’s his most recent play Hangmen which ran at the Royal Court a few years back that really made me fall in love with him. McDonagh has a way with dialogue that only very few writers seem to have, the kind of command over language that feels just a notch above realistic. It’s entirely convincing that someone would say the words he writes, but at the same time, it flows like poetry, almost like a character is speaking from memory. It is beautiful and artistically brilliant and its exactly why this film soars above anything that you would initially think it’s going to be.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the story of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a mother who is still grieving over the rape and murder of her daughter seven months prior to when we meet her. At the very start of the film, Mildred happens upon three billboards nearby her house that have been left completely abandoned. She hatches a plan of using the billboards as a publicity stunt to force the police to revisit the case of her daughter, opening up an entirely different can of worms along the way. It’s original, dark, incredibly funny and deeply touching all in equal measure and is exactly the kind of film you’d imagine to see from a playwright if they were given a big budget and were told to utilise a location for their story; it’s a film that works like a play on location.

McDonagh also directs the picture, something that seems wholly necessary for a script that is so deeply steeped in its own style and he does a fantastic job with it. The film has a delightful feel to it and is a wonderful establishment of McDonagh’s directing style, a flair that I am excited to see even more of in the future.

I suppose it also helps a director to have amazing actors to work with, something that this film seems to have in an abundance. One of my favourite actresses Frances McDormand takes on a role that is guaranteed to win her an Oscar in a few weeks’ time (her second statue, her first was for Fargo, one of my all-time favourite films). McDormand has a way of properly losing herself inside of a character and embracing all of their problems and running with them. This performance is a perfect showcase of that and its delightful to see new audiences get to discover her for the first time and fall in love with her, too. She also has a wonderful way with incredibly subtle humour, a theme that is littered throughout the script of this movie – as is McDonagh’s style. It’s a performance that it worthy of that golden statue and all of the accolades that it’s been receiving already.

McDormand’s co-stars are equally as fantastic in this movie, as per usual. Woody Harrelson takes on the role of the famed Chief Willoughby, the policeman that Mildred specifically targets with her billboards. Woody is funny and brilliant in every film he is in but here, he is at the very top of his game. It’s such a shame that he isn’t getting even more recognition than he currently is for his work on this film because it’s subtle yet brilliant, but I know that he’s a fan favourite nonetheless. To get to see him and Frances McDormand side by side on the same screen is just fantastic and every moment where they’re acting together leaves a smile on my face.

Our other major supporting actor here is the fantastic Sam Rockwell who will also inevitably take home the golden statuette on Oscar night. Sam plays Jason Dixon, your average living-in-mom’s-basement kind of guy who also clearly has a toxic masculinity issue. It’s him that a lot of the workload in the police force is falling on in this movie and because he has a problem with everyone, it doesn’t end well for him. Despite the fact that he is a deeply deplorable character because of his openly racist, homophobic and misogynistic ways, McDonagh manages to show the audience that he is still, in theory, trying to be a good person and learn from his mistakes. His mother is present in the movie too and is very clearly the woman who has spurred this behaviour on since birth, so McDonagh and Rockwell are given the chance to suggest that some people view the world in the way they do because of the generations that have come before them, so how are they meant to do any better?

That’s the exact subject matter that has drawn a lot of controversy towards this movie in fact. Several times throughout the film, the dislike that these small-town residents have for “minority groups” is batted about without any repercussions because there’s no one there to tell them otherwise. For many, they see this as being a negative attribute to the film: if people who share these views watch this and see their views being accepted in a major motion picture, how will they learn otherwise? I think there are many sides to this argument, but what I see is McDonagh trying to build as realistic a portrayal of small-town Missouri as he possibly can, warts and all. The kind of casual racism and homophobia that is thrown around at points in this film is completely indicative of what real life would be like and McDonagh has scripted it as a way of laughing at the absurdity of it from afar. It’s perhaps the kind of humour that McDonagh would much better “get away with” in the theatre where he typically works, a place where almost all attendees would easily see the irony in those statements and appreciate why they’re there due to the kind of audience the theatre tends to draw. But when it comes to a major movie that is playing to absolutely anyone worldwide, it loses that kind of in-joke quality about it.

All-in-all though, Three Billboards is as fantastic the second time around as it is the first and I am already excited to visit the film again. Despite the fact that it feels so intentionally enclosed in its world building, I am endlessly fascinated and endeared by what it has to offer. It’s a story that I am yet to grow tired of and a piece of art that is fast going to become a cult – or maybe even a general – classic in the years to come. I’m sure it’ll do amazing business on Oscar night just like how it has done already and rightly so, because it’s absolutely fantastic.


Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is in cinemas now.