As a fan of Martin McDonagh this has been one of my most anticipated movies ever since it was announced. Having had the pleasure of seeing this movie twice now I am delighted to say that it’s his best movie… No small feat considering the pedigree of his previous movies. The premise of this movie is that Mildred Hayes, played wonderfully by Francis McDormand, puts up three billboards calling out the local police force about their inability to find the people responsible for raping and murdering her daughter. The film then chronicles the fallout that follows.
As you’d expect from Martin McDonagh this is a pitch black tragi-comedy. He displays such a firm grasp on tone that he is able to make me cry in one scene and then immediately cut to a scene played for laughs… The fact that this works so seamlessly is extremely impressive.
The entire cast is absolutely phenomenal delivering career best performances from careers that are littered with standout performances. Sam Rockwell, in combination with Martin McDonagh’s writing, manages to imbue a traditionally one note character with so much depth that you miraculously end up semi-rooting for him by the end. And as one has come to expect from Sam Rockwell… He once again steal the movie. That’s not meant to be a disservice to any of the other actors however, merely a testament to his talents. McDormand delivers a towering performance as Mildred. You really feel the guilt she feels over her daughters death but her tenacity and quick wit shines through. Woody Harrelson is outstanding also, and is afforded the film’s most emotional scene. In a particular scene with Mildred highlights both these actors abilities and brings more depth to both of their characters in heartbreaking fashion. Peter Dinklage also does a lot with his character despite his limited screen time. One of the film’s strengths is that all the characters feel fully realised. Nobody is all good or evil… Just different shades of grey. One of the central themes of the movie is how violence begets more violence (Peter Dinklage is granted one of the film’s funniest lines discussing this). All these characters have their preconceived notions and this film masterfully shatters these and is demonstrated in a number of scenes throughout. Many of the characters are afforded with rewarding arcs that feel true to the nature of the character.
There’s lovely details peppered throughout such as Dixon reading comics lending credence to his acts of heroism later on and a nice piece of foreshadowing about people admitting to crimes in bars, and no doubt many more subtleties throughout the movie that will be picked up upon future viewings.
The direction is absolutely sublime here. McDonagh smartly favours an understated approach save for one incredible one shot action sequence. Something that really stood out for me on the second viewing is that he isn’t afraid to let the scene play for a bit longer as he has the confidence in his actors to let the camera linger on them. This really draws the viewer in and helps build connection to the characters. He knows the material so well to realise that this isn’t a film that requires showy direction and the more subdued approach works wonders. It also allows the acting and script to really shine. His knack for writing witty dialogue is on full display here with many brilliant lines getting big laughs. The soundtrack is also great and feels appropriate given the setting.
I genuinely believe that this movie will be remembered as a classic in decades to come. From the fantastic characters, the sharp dialogue and interesting way the story plays out, this is a film that leaves a lasting impression.