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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri


Stars: Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry Jones, Kathryn Newton, Clarke Peters, Lucas Hedges, John Hawkes, Zeljko Ivanek

Director: Martin McDonagh

Mystifyingly nominated for (and a probable winner of) multiple awards, this is one strange, disjointed film. Set in a small community shot through with violence - police brutality is taken for granted - the story is also laced with quirkily funny lines and moments.

Twin Peaks springs to mind for comparison - yes, this is very Lynchean in concept and execution.

Its action centres on Mildred (McDormand), whose teenage daughter was brutally murdered - and raped as she lay dying.

After a protracted opening scene, battle lines are speedily drawn. Mildred's prime target is the local police headed by Bill Willoughby (Harrelson). Living with her son (Hedges) - her ex (Hawkes) is shacked up with a 19-year-old zookeeper (Newton) - Mildred sets up three massive billboards accusing Willoughby and his men of seven-month-long inaction on the case.

The cops also include loose cannon Dixon (Rockwell), who's forever drunk, fairly dim and enjoys beating people up. Accused of mistreating black prisoners, he slurs that 'You can't say nigger torturing', you gotta say 'persons of colour torturing'.

As the story progresses, however, few characters are exactly what they seem, except for their tendency to violence and graveyard humour. 'All his anger,' says one character. 'It just begets more anger.'

You vaguely hope there might be a logical conclusion to all this, but this is not in writer-directer McDonagh's remit, as some story threads explode, while others fizzle out, leading to a double anti- climax at the fadeout.

If Oscar favourite McDormand's abrasive performance is somewhat one-note, it's not the fault of this fine actress, rather of McDonagh's script. Rockwell, however, is truly excellent, even if it's difficult to see how Harrelson sees redeeming features in his character.

All in all, it's a rum do.

David Quinlan

USA 2017. UK Distributor: 20th Century Fox (Fox Searchlight). Colour (unspecified).
114 minutes. Widescreen. UK certificate: 15.

Guidance ratings (out of 3): Sex/nudity 1, Violence/Horror 2, Drugs 0, Swearing 3.

Review date: 07 Jan 2018