Mildred takes on everyone in a war that throws our very humanity into the airFOX SEARCHLIGHT PICTURES

In the beginning, there was an assault. “RAPED WHILE DYING” fills the screen, one of three billboards announcing Mildred Hayes’s quest to avenge her murdered daughter. Yet in the pastures beneath the signs, we too are battered with pretentious statements and gasp-inducing racist ‘jokes’. N-words pile upon f-words until we are left restless, exhausted, our minds on the cinema door. The unseen criminal scribbling down this mess lurks in the shadows, all hopes for excellence abandoned in the foyer.

Then there was a denouncement. Wit pervades the scene as the Church, embodied in a minister, brings the mania to a halt. Attempting to put down Mildred’s redemptive plight in the best interests of normality, he brings on a storm from a mother enduring the unimaginable: heed her words and practise what you preach! At last, the real Martin McDonagh steps into the light, his words cutting through a veil of ignorance. A veil that is beaten, torn, and burned in the remaining minutes.

“In the eyes of God, wrongs can be righted”

It is a shining moment for Frances McDormand, our bandana-ed crusader tearing down the doors of institutions to reveal the corruption within. We do not see the minister again, he would not dare, for a new teacher is in town. Not since Fargo have we seen such fury in McDormand’s eyes, ever present behind the coolest of façades, throwing Molotov cocktails and kicking students in the groin. Hardly the perfect heroine, but undoubtedly human. 

“Who are the heroes?” McDonagh cries. They can be racists, homophobes, misogynists – redemption is the agenda of the day. A life of ignorance and sin may be turned around in the work of a moment, an envelope of cash, a magic trick, a hand on a ladder. Those who seek not forgiveness are its recipients, both Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell supporting McDormand with the deftest hands. In the eyes of God, wrongs can be righted.

Trailer for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, MissouriYOUTUBE

McDonagh can do violence and comedy – In Bruges suggested it, Seven Psychopaths confirmed it. Here we receive something different. The initial misfires hurt, but soon one cannot help but move on and laugh, sometimes aghast, often with affection. Possibly the result of habituation, the initial onslaught dies down and there is much to be appreciated in deer and flowers, the potential of rebirth. The biggest laughs are crushed with the biggest blows to the heart, the one scene in which we see Mildred’s daughter striking the hardest. It makes her persistent absence all the more painful to bear.


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Everyone has their demons, their tests and sorrows. Chief Willoughby has his cancer, Dixon his overbearing mother, and James, a stand-out Peter Dinklage, his unrequited love. Mildred is so often blind to them, seeing only action without causation, and our cinematic omniscience should not force judgement on either. Instead it is what no one sees, but is felt by all, that must be acknowledged: the real evil at large, manifested in a rapist we may or may not know. McDonagh allows us to decide, justice in the hands of the heroes, of where the blame might lie, and if it exists at all.

So Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri goes. Much like its title, we are taken on a ride the long way round, with shining stars and missed opportunities. We have here a white Irish man attempting to cast light on America’s most controversial issues, its laws and opinions. It seems, for some time, an utterly dreadful film – yet there is a turn, from pretence to genius, humanity, and grace. Imperfections should not define our verdict, and when all is said and done we might even forget original sins. Its message of reconciliation and forgiveness one of the most effective ever told, the same must be extended to McDonagh, and his beautiful tale

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