Magazine article Screen International

'Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri': Venice Review

Magazine article Screen International

'Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri': Venice Review

Article excerpt

Frances McDormand is scorching as a small-town avenger in the latest from Seven Psychopaths’ Martin McDonagh.

‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’

Dir/scr. Martin McDonagh. US. 110 mins.

A commanding Frances McDormand plays a strong-minded working-class woman who thirsts for justice for her murdered daughter in Martin McDonagh’s quixotic, loose Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - a film with the best title and trailer of the year, but which fails to fully deliver on the promise of either.

A whimsical modern-day Western with the boiler-suited Frances McDormand playing the lone ranger in a fight for justice

Anchored by a funny, foul-mouthed performance from McDormand, McDonagh’s daringly-structured dark comedy is rich and layered and often laugh-out-loud funny but trips over constant tonal shifts. As a writer, McDonagh front-loads his narrative into the first 20 minutes, and layers on long monologues. The early, well-signposted death of a central character has clanging reverberations for what’s left of the plot, which McDonagh the director can’t fully quiet.

A strong cast which also includes Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Lucas Hedges and Caleb Landry Jones pulls hard together, straining for the piece to cohere, although Australian actress Abbie Cornish is palpably ill at ease. The promise of a Coen Brothers-style black comedy from the man behind In Bruges should still be commercial catnip for distributor Fox Searchlight on US release in November after a festival run, however.

McDonagh never really answers essential questions about his piece, pre-occupied with the tease of the structural challenge he has set himself. His characters’ motivations are consistently elusive: Tarantino-ish dialogue may aim to shock with casual racism and vulgarity, but Three Billboards never fully comes alive outside its writer’s mind as its characters kneel to his will. Punchy sequences bounce off each other as McDonagh’s well-written pages often struggle to slot together. When it’s funny, though, Ebbing really scores, and many viewers will find the laughter carries them over its problems.

The premise is perfect for that internet sensation trailer: McDormand is Mildred Hayes, the tough, flinty, foul-mouthed mother of murdered teenager Angela. Running out of patience with local law enforcement, she buys ad space on three billboards outside the town of Ebbing to make a statement on Easter Sunday: her daughter was ‘raped while dying, and still no arrests Sheriff Willoughby (Harrelson)? …

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