‘This time the chick ain’t losing.’
Having rewatched In Bruges (writer-director Martin McDonagh’s feature film debut) I was more than ready for TBOEM. I was prepared for the dark & wry humour, the bleak sudden twists and heart-rendering emotion – or at least I thought I was…I really wasn’t. A more focused character study than In Bruges or Seven Psychopaths; this film is just as funny, extremely violent as well as constantly and deeply moving.
The film’s main focus is Mildred Hayes (Frances Mcdormand), who in recent months has become better known in her small community as ‘Angela Hayes’s Mother’. Seven months prior Angela was raped and burned alive, the Ebbing police force are yet to make any progress with the case, leaving Mildred a numb and angry ball of rage. She takes the bold move to pay $5000 for the hire of three billboards, drawing up a contract to keep them up for a year. The three signs make up a controversial direct message to the town’s well-regarder chief of police William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson). The battle between Mildred and the police only increases when Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), William’s reckless and violent second-in-command, gets involved.
The end result is a film that starts off feeling somewhat of a straightforward thriller, but quickly emerges as something much darker and deeper. It’s a meditation of the nature of compicty, the different types of guilt and grief we experience, the complicated dynamics of small community life and the practice of forgiveness. The film is truly unpredictable in nature, taking numerous unexpected turns both in plot and tone. Whilst watching it feels like you’re watching classic as the dialogue is regularly so profound and multi-layered. But it’s the way it’s performed that makes it something almost transcendent.
McDormand talents are no secret, we’ve all seen how good she is. But here, she’s something else. She’s a powerhouse, one barely holding it together but determined to bulldoze anyone who stands in her way. Her delivery as dry as the Sahara desert, every expression both ablaze but wounded. Immensely watchable, every scene – from heartbreaking to hilarious – so haunting and so incredible.
Harrelson’s performance is quieter in comparison, more composed and thoughtful. And the truly underrated Rockwell gives a career-best performance providing a character arc so astonishing it has to be seen to be believed. Peter Dinklage may not have as much screen time, but with what he has he manages to create an endearing and memorable figure.
There’s something of a parable about TBOEM, a story of vengeance and a reflection onto the extent that anger can consume. Plus one of the best gags involving the C-word that I think I’ve ever heard…