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Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Roslyn Hull

A mother personally challenges the local authorities to solve her daughter’s murder when they fail to catch the culprit. IMDb

 Well readers, we are into awards season and the cinemas are thick with worthy films.

My last review covered Darkest Hour and my belief that Gary Oldman will take out the bulk of the Best Actor awards. Frances McDormand, the star of this film, is my bet for the various Best Actress awards. She is amazing – unlikeable but understandable, rough but noble and compellingly watchable.

But don’t see this film because of her. See it for the incredibly black humour that does not offer relief from the tragedy and sudden violence but actually sharpens the sting.

Written and directed by Martin McDonagh – the possibly deranged but very talented storyteller behind In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths – he gives us a story of pain and violent loss in counterpoint with the inconsistencies of human behaviour. Particularly in relation to grief and retribution.

Several times I wanted to call out ‘Don’t!’ to the characters as they act like actual, flawed humans and not the better versions of ourselves more typical in this style of movie. Not that I think there is a genre of movie quite like this.

It is powerful, it is actually entertaining and it is such satisfying viewing. Partly because (spoiler alert) it does not have a very conclusive ending but mostly because it is an actor’s dream.

There are no small parts. Every. Single. Role is written tellingly and gets at least a tiny bit of character development so the actors respond accordingly with wonderful characterisations. Even the ditsy girlfriends. No, especially the ditsy girlfriends.

Of course McDonagh has employed some of the best character actors in the business too. He worked on In Bruges with both Frances McDormand and Peter Dinklage (who is so good) and has roped in the boy who was nominated last year for Manchester by the Sea as McDormand’s son. He also has Abbie Cornish (wow), Zeljko Ivanek (touching) and Woody Harrelson (a driving force) all working with him again, having been in Seven Psychopaths.

Sam Rockwell was in that too and here is second only to McDormand in giving the performance of his life. One of my favourite Indy/character actors he stamps what is a wonderfully drawn character as his own and elevates a brutish local law enforcer into something special.

The advertising business owner is wonderful, as are all the other townsfolk. And then there is John Hawkes. The mesmerizingly evil manipulator in Martha Marcy May Marlene plays McDormand’s ex-husband and the victim’s father in a way that we both understand and are repelled by.

A story that goes where others fear to tread, Three Billboards is one stunning (if very sweary) film.


Ros Hull

Roslyn is a writer and storyteller who loves all things Canberra, her family, sci fi and movies – but not in that order. She has worked in museum education since 2001 and has a passion for imparting knowledge to others. Writing is her happy place, particularly if there is a dog at her feet and a coffee in her hand. More about the Author

  • Nik

    I loved this movie! Great review of a movie with some super intense characters. It was described by McDormand as a true Greek tragedy, in that the comedy out of the situation emerges. It was so dark with genuine laugh out loud moments. I hope McDormand gets the Academy award!!
    (A possible correction, I don’t think Peter Dinklage was in In Bruges I think it was Jordan Prentice)