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Wednesday, February 28, 2018


(Frances McDormand)

Fine performances from Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson stand out in a movie that sparkles but doesn’t always convince. (Review: Patrick Compton - 7/10)

All movies come with a “believability factor” – the important issue of whether you naturally suspend your disbelief watching a medium that you know employs a high degree of artifice.

Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – a big Oscar contender – undoubtedly scores highly as entertainment, but is less convincing as a realistic portrait of a small-town community and its various inhabitants.

McDonagh, formerly best known for his superior gangster comedy/drama In Bruges, is, like his brother John (Calvary), a playwright who dips into cinema from time to time. In some respects he’s hit the jackpot here in this violent coal black comedy-drama about a woman, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), who campaigns to get the local police chief’s attention after her daughter is raped and murdered.

We join the action seven months after the killing, with the daughter’s assailant yet to be identified. Mildred, bitter and frustrated, decides to publicise her feelings, plastering the following messages on three abandoned billboards on an obscure side road: Still No Arrests? How Come Chief Willoughby? Raped While Dying.

These messages, not surprisingly, cause an uproar in the community. It would have been easy for McDonagh to have created a monster in the character of Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), but that is not what happens. Willoughby, in fact, is probably the most rounded and sympathetic figure in the movie. He comes over as a good man who suffers from anguish over the police failure to track down the killer. He also suffers in another way after being diagnosed with terminal cancer.

McDonagh throws a number of other highly visible characters into his melodrama, including a dumb racist cop, Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell), who combines a high degree of unpleasantness with a bizarre comic presence and even a space for some kind of future redemption.

In his career, the Irish writer-director has repeatedly created a succession of oddball characters and enjoyed watching them ping off each other. While the result is frequently entertaining, the overall chemical mix doesn’t always result in a feeling of authenticity. From scene to scene Billboards entertains, but deep down I didn’t believe what I was seeing, not least because some of the film’s later plotting is deeply unconvincing.

McDormand, who has admitted that she based her performance on John Wayne, is the ever-present focal point as she pursues vengeance, but while she is apparently a front-runner for the Oscar for best actress, her flinty, foul-mouthed effort simply doesn’t compare with her masterful performance as “Marjee”, the pregnant Minnesota police chief in the Coen brothers’ masterpiece, Fargo.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is showing at the Gateway, Pavilion, Midlands and Watercrest malls. – Patrick Compton