REVIEW: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

THREE Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a raucous comedy drama, centred around Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), a mother who picks a flight with her local police department. Mildred blames Police Chief Willoughby for failing to find her daughter’s murderer. So she tries to goad him into action by pasting confrontational slogans on three abandoned billboards outside of town. Chaos ensues.

Despite the difficulties inherent in finding comedy in that premise, Three Billboards managed to be both the funniest and the darkest black comedy that I’ve seen in a long time. The greatest strength of the film lies, unsurprisingly, in its ability to pull off almost frictionless changes of tone – from comic-book violence to visceral bar fights; from frivolous one-liners to incisive social satire.

Scriptwriter Martin McDonagh’s character development was also polished and unobtrusive. For most of the film, the mother of police officer Jason Dixon is flinty and unrepentantly redneck. Yet you won’t bat an eyelid when the time comes to see her vulnerable side. It’s easy to buy into the offscreen existence of the characters too, not least because there are elements in each of their backstories that are hinted at but never fully developed.  One gets the impression, for example, that Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is a repressed homosexual; but this is left under the surface, and never gets explicitly addressed. 3BB_1Sheet_27x40_STATE_FRAMED VISIBLE_FIN1.indd

One thing that lets Three Billboards down is its attempts at sensitive moments: witness Mildred’s cliched reactions to a fuzzy CGI deer. Likewise, the ‘Mildred makes her slippers talk to each other’ scene succeeded only in reinforcing the impression that Mildred is borderline insane. But wherever the characters’ emotionality is fierce and half-raw, the film shines. Mildred’s post-row reconciliation with son Robbie is believable and heart-warming, not to mention funny in a way that belies the scene’s simplicity.

The film’s spiritual core is Woody Harrelson’s implausibly articulate Chief Willoughby. One quibble I had with the script was Willoughby’s pre-sex dialogue with his wife Anne, played by Abbie Cornish (twenty years Harrelson’s junior). Anne’s sceptical rebuff “No we’re not” gets the answer “Yes we are” from Willoughby in an exchange that verges on the misogynist so far as I’m concerned. This wouldn’t be so bad if Chief Willoughby wasn’t in all other respects the only non-flawed character in Three Billboards; so much the movie’s resident moral saint that he latterly gets to be its narrator. But if you’re uncomfortable with risqué dialogue getting played for laughs, Three Billboards probably isn’t the film for you anyway. Phrases that get bandied about include: ‘fags’; the N-word; ‘fat little Mexican boys’; and ‘town midget’ – I’m not even sure if Peter Dinklage’s character gets given another name.

What I liked most about Three Billboards was that for all its social commentary and moments of introspection, it felt like a film without a moral. McDonagh’s script isn’t one that tries to ‘give us answers’. The film’s first priority is to make us laugh; and after that it’s more concerned with posing provocative questions than answering them. If you’re happy to judge it by these standards, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is definitely worth a watch.

See it at the Savoy Theatre, Monmouth from Friday 16th to Thursday 22nd of February.

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The scenic sights of Spain

THE haunting notes of Fernando, the sorrowful song about a Spanish boy, came sobbing softly from a grand piano as we sailed down the Mersey from Liverpool towards the open sea.

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Nigel Heath encounters his Cosmic Joker on a festive visit to France

I was really looking forward to our pre Christmas arrival in picturesque Lassay les Chateaux,  a ‘petite city of cultural,’ nestling amid rolling hills on a plateaux ninety minutes drive south from Caen.

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Browsing the markets of France

Travel writer Nigel Heath pays the price of ignoring a good intention on visiting a French market.

ONE has two choices when visiting a bustling French market in a large town some miles from one’s holiday gite, hotel or B&B and they are either to rise early and beat the traffic and the descending hoards, or to remain in relaxed vacation mode and arrive in the fullness of time.

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Walking the Thames Path: from the London Barrier to Staines

Travel writer Nigel Heath walks from the Thames Barrier to Staines with his friend Peter Gibbs.

IT was a magnificent September dawn just before the ‘Great Fire of London’ when we joined the mighty River Thames just upstream from its iconic barrier. No, my walking friend Peter Gibbs and I were not time travellers in a muddle.

We just happened to be setting out on the Thames Path walk to the river’s source in Gloucestershire as the final preparations were being made to set alight a floating replica of 17th century London to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the great conflagration.

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General election 2017: Who has your vote?

MONMOUTHSHIRE will go to the polls for the second time in five weeks on 8th June after a General Election was called by Prime Minister Theresa May. Continue reading

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Three French towns

Whilst traveling around Brittany and Normandy, travel writer Nigel Heath visits the picturesque towns of Vitre, Fougeres and Dinan.

“THOSE Romans must have done an awful lot of marching around here when they occupied Gaul,” I remarked as we drove arrow-like along one of the many straight and almost empty roads we had encountered on our holiday travels around Normandy and Brittany. Continue reading

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