A Colourful Noir

Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing Missouri

Bleak, haunting, yet profoundly moving Three Billboards Outside Of Ebbing Missouri begins with a premise that seems to promise the viewer precious little. It is a symphony of damaged souls. An elegy to small-town dysfunction, yet there is an elegance and an honesty afoot. The script is so pared down it could have been chiseled by the pen of Samuel Beckett, it certainly is possessed in part by his economy of style, leaving space for the characters to say very little, but to reveal a tremendous amount about themselves, and their tragedy laden scenarios.

It does, and is about what the title suggests. Frances McDormand brings a wry intensity to Mildred, a woman whose daughter has been the victim of a sickening rape that ended in a grisly murder. It transpires that they didn't have a "Waltons-like" familial bond. Her husband having deserted her for a pretty, yet pretty dumb nineteen-year old, who has problems understanding the difference between polo from polio, and her daughter, a free-spirited teen who didn't always agree with her mother, embodies a relationship imbued with remorse and regret. This is America in the backwoods. Grim, a rule unto itself and inherently dysfunctional. She rents the three billboards on a little-used road, as an act to provoke and blackmail the police into investigating her daughter's horrific murder, appropriately and properly. McDormand is a masterclass in economy. She barely moves a muscle, her face like a female Mount Rushmore, but when she does, it matters, and the audience doesn't miss her intensity of range and rage.

The local sheriff, embodied with damaged humanity by Woody Harrelson, isn't the most capable of law enforcement officers, and is dying of cancer. His eclectic gang of law breaking law-makers are better at making up rules and ignoring them, than actually doing what they should. Sam Rockwell does a brilliant job as the resident, racist, law-breaking cop who usually makes the law that isn't into his own, and since no one steps on his madness, he gets away with near murder, whilst trying to conceal his pretty poorly hidden, latent homosexual tendencies. He lives with his beer swilling, controlling mother, and routinely gets away with contorting the law to suit himself. It is a sympathetic rendering of a wounded, rage-fueled personality, warts and all, and explains him in part, without ever justifying his baleful nature. He is mostly, a human failure.

The whole affair is deeply problematic, a tinderbox that could immolate them all. The taut nature of the film is akin to a violin string, so tightly wound it could snap at any unforgiven moment. It has aspects of genuine pathos, enhances profound sadness, and yet the proceedings grip the viewer. There are elements of Terrence Malick's Badlands but without the inherent glamour, although it does possess an equally exquisite soundtrack, even The Left Banke get a much deserved, yet appropriate airing. But this is a film about resolution, redemption and in many ways, a hymn to forgiveness for the unforgivable.

Had Hollywood not have been beset by the recent, heavily publicized problems, I doubt that this graceful exercise would have been fairly considered for due care and attention. It is little short of masterly, shot through by moments of profoundly dark humor that never winds here one expects, and has a gritty grace, and a stilted eloquence. There has been criticism of the character studiously realized by Peter Dinklage as the "town dwarf." It has a truckload of hurtful realism, portraying his reality in the world in which he finds himself, and not as a many would care to have it represented. You cannot create a film about flaws by routinely airbrushing them into a facet of social perfectionism. Life is cruel, and to represent otherwise would be a lie, an act of blinded kindness. For me the film has an uncomfortable credibility. It is life as it is, not how we'd like it to be, and has the balls to use language as it exists, not how it is preferred.

Welcome to the lives of the cheated. By viewing the unlovable, you may just learn an understanding of them. With that they too might merit a modicum of affection, even if they don't always deserve it. Behind such honesty there resides an uneasy wisdom, for this is the world of the flawed, the terrain of the emotionally unadorned. - Robert Cochrane


Mr. Cochrane is a poet and writer living in Manchester, England. His work has appeared in Mojo, Attitude, and Dazed & Confused. He has published numerous collections of poems and Gone Tomorrow.

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