Directed by: Martin McDonagh
It is fantastic to see the forever dependable Frances McDormand as a lead. This instantly means the film is a must-watch. She also has the advantage of leading a fantastic film, and unsurprisingly she nails her role as a hard-nosed, stubborn woman who simply does not take not take no for an answer. She also doesn’t seem to care what anyone thinks of her actions. What is also nice to see is the film’s main character is a female. We had Atomic Blonde this year, which was okay I guess in a femme fatale kinda way, but this is very different, and much more thoughtful in terms of a strong female character. It is her attitude, her aggressive nature and behaviour despite warnings from cops that creates a strong, flawed but incredibly strong female lead, one we certainly get to know well.
The quality doesn’t stop with Frances hitting everything out of the park. Despite the trailer which made the film seem like a comedy, this is actually a fantastic drama that isn’t as funny as expected, but there is certainly dark comedy littered throughout the film. A fantastic example is when Mildred (McDormand) first enters the police station, and walks up to the cop she has a problem with, and simply says, very loudly, “hey, fuckhead!”. Her determination and incredibly strong motivation is almost instantly apparent.
She knows that this cop is extremely racist, and she is angry due to the rumours that young black people are being tortured, while the case of the death of her daughter has not gone anywhere. Each time she enters the station, no one seems to be working, and her favourite cop often has his legs up on his desk, doing nothing. This fuels her anger further, and cements her position on her billboards. They will stay, three in a row to hammer her point home. Anyone who drives down that road will see each one in succession.
However, her billboards create problems not just for the police, but for other people who feel like the billboards are reminding them of the death of her daughter. But Mildred does not care. Her billboards are staying, and there is nothing anyone can say that will change her mind. She hires the billboards at the very start of the film, instantly creating the conflict that fuels the film.
Woody Harrelson also turns in a great performance, he has performed brilliantly this year with the Planet of the Apes film as well as this one. Despite the billboards being targeted directly at him, the Cheif of police, he never loses his cool as he tries to reason with Mildred in a passive way. His presence is a superb contrast to Sam Rockwell’s Dixon; a racist, useless cop who is privy to a brilliant and very interesting character arc. Rockwell plays his character to near perfection, and it is nice to see him again after McDonagh’s last film.
The final act is quite intense, much more than expected, while the final scene at first seems wrong, as if the film ended earlier than it should have. But on reflection, it possesses a very heavy theme and the ending is ambiguous as all hell, giving us a chance to think about what could have happened next after the screen turned to black.
This is a fun but dark film, as it has many dark laughs during some horrible situations, and the second half of the film turns the intensity up to eleven. Yet there are still laughs to be found, if your sense of humour is dark and a little twisted. The second half also delves into the emotions and feelings people have towards other characters while the action is occasionally in the background. This is a multi-faceted film; all the characters are well written and have distinct personalities that are almost immediately apparent. When the film takes a hard hairpin, the drama is not only surprising but extremely well executed, adding another layer to an already fascinating film.
One of the best of 2017, where we have been spoiled for choice of good films.
A full sixer.
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