Jemima Laing reviews Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – currently showing in the PAC cinema, with limited tickets available for the remaining screenings.
Mildred Hayes knows the power of the billboard.
Perhaps her decision to buy up the titular hoardings is a nod to her character’s awareness of the work of Guerilla Girls or Jenny Holzer when, after months of indifference from the police team investigating her daughter’s murder, she sees a public shaming of their ineptitude in stark letters as her only option.
The rest of the film flows from the consequences – some intended, some not – of her bold decision and gives Frances McDormand, who plays Mildred, a chance to turn in a stupendous performance switching from boiler-suited bravado to crumpled vulnerability in the blink of an eye.
She is unwavering in her quest to have her daughter’s terrible demise properly investigated and it soon becomes clear she will stop at nothing to achieve her aim. But nothing in this film is set in stone, one scene in particular between Mildred and Woody Harrelson’s ailing Sheriff Willoughby – whose incompetence she is setting out to highlight – is a touching reminder that Ebbing is the kind of small town where everyone knows everyone and no one is entirely anyone’s enemy.
Bolstered by other excellent performances including from Sam Rockwell, Peter Dinklage and Sandy Martin the film starts in high gear and barely lifts its foot from the pedal. Infused with a Wild Western sensibility it also offers many belly laughs and – as he did with In Bruges – Martin McDonagh effortlessly imbues even the least likeable character with a helping of humanity.