RogerBW's Blog

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri 20 May 2023

2018 drama, dir. Martin McDonagh, Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell: IMDb / allmovie. Her daughter was raped and murdered, and nobody's caught the killer…

The key thing on which this film rests is Frances McDormand. Always watchable, here she gives a superb portrayal of Mildred Hayes as someone who's hurt, grieving, and angry. It's not a practical anger; this isn't one of those stories where everyone knows whodunnit but they're too powerful or connected for the police to go after them. She probably isn't expecting the billboards ("Raped While Dying", "And Still No Arrests?", "How Come, Chief Willoughby?") to achieve anything… but they make people uncomfortable, and that's a start.

And the other major player, Jason the racist cop, isn't simple either. It's not even that he has a redemption arc, for all he starts off opposed to Mildred's message and ends up helping her; he's still, by the end, a pretty horrible person, no less likely to torture the next black suspect he meets than he was before. But in those lovely closing scenes, with all the visual grammar of positivity and a new beginning and setting off on a road trip… we can't forget that he and Mildred are going out with the intention of murdering someone.

A small early joy can often get me feeling positive about a film, and when we first meet Mildred she's listening to The Last Rose of Summer – while a little while later Jason is singing Streets of Laredo. Both songs are about death, but in the one case it's inevitable and sad decay, in the other proper manly death (even if the original Irish folk song was about dying of syphilis).

Everyone here is just good. Sure, the thing isn't perfect – it's an Irishman's view of the modern American South – but it holds together and I'm now enthusiastic about watching some of McDonagh's other films.

I talk about this film further on Ribbon of Memes.

Tags: film reviews

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