This film is a dry, dark satire which pulls questions about the nature of humanity, good and evil, redemption and salvation out of its cowboy hat.
It leaves you wondering quite what it was that you saw. And it messes with assumptions about who is in the right.
It is tragic, comic, and will leave you in tears. Full of bad language, violence and adult themes it does not pull punches, which is only to be expected from Martin McDonagh, the writer of In Bruges. It’s also almost impossible to review without giving away spoilers.
Mildred Hayes (Frances McDonagh) is a mother whose daughter was raped and murdered.
One year on and the police have made no progress and have no leads.
In frustration she hires three billboards to publicly challenge the police and Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on lack of progress with the case.
She wonders if the cops are too busy “torturing niggers.”
The billboards cause uproar in the small community and Mildred is repeatedly asked to take them down but responds forthrightly and assertively.
Her response to the local priest is particularly amusing.
Cop Jason Dixon takes the attack personally. You start off hating his character but by the end don’t know what to think.
There are multiple stories and multiple questions—each story weaves around the others and none of them stands alone.
The film isn’t only about police incompetence or indifference, nor is it solely about police racism but also homophobia.
At one point Willoughby says that if they got rid of all the racists then they’d probably be stuck with people who hate gays.
Class issues are front and centre here. In a small, poor, rural US town racism is not hidden—it’s often advertised as a thing to be proud of.
The scenes using fire evoke the KKK splendidly and send chills down your spine.
There is no place of safety for any in this town, posing questions about the role and nature of the police.
The black police officer sent to take charge towards the end of the film tells Mildred that all police are not the enemy. She does not dignify him with a reply.
Do those in power protect their own? I leave it to you to decide on the few final scenes.
There are excellent performances from the cast, and the film picked up four Golden Globe awards including Best Picture, Best Screenplay, Best Actress and Best Supporting Actor.
It also has a gorgeous Americana soundtrack.
This film is a joy, but joy does not come without tears.