(Dir. Martin McDonagh) (2017)
This hefty slice of southern-fried Grand-Guignol, redolent of Flann O’Connor, one of whose novels a character is seen clutching early on, resolves into a mature, thoughtful, at times shocking and occasionally hilarious exposition upon man’s desire for avengement and intense disregard for due process. Mildred (Frances McDormand) has lost her daughter, who was, we hear more than once, not raped and killed, but raped while being killed. It’s been seven months with no leads in the case, for which Mildred holds Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) fully accountable. In order to stir the Ebbing police to greater efforts (whether consistent with constitutional rights or not), she hires three decrepit old billboards on a lonely stretch of road out of town –
The Chief is none too pleased and attempts to alternately charm, then heavy, Mildred. But this lady ain’t for turning. Along the way, we meet several townsfolk who would be equal to the term ‘dysfunctional’, and friendly, local, violence lurks very near all surfaces. There’s much here that strains credulity, and yet the feelings displayed have a strong ring of truth, helped along by crisp photography and editing, and grounded in solid performances.
In a varied and impeccable cast, Harrelson and McDormand are terrific, both alternately hard as rock and soft as butter; as are Caleb Landry Jones (last seen by TVC as the revolting son in Get Out), on the receiving end much more than he deserves; dumb and dangerous Deputy Sam Rockwell (receiving about as much as he deserves); Mildred’s ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes); Samara Weaving as Charlie’s dopey girlfriend (reminiscent of Sydney Pollock’s squeeze in Husbands and Wives), and Clarke Peters as the replacement Sheriff (who, being from outta town, displays the only common sense in the whole story).
To say much more would be to spoil. Suffice to say that some strange allegiances form amid the chaos, and we leave the survivors to their own devices, hurtling towards God only knows where.