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Byron Shire
May 13, 2021

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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You or I might not do it, but it appears to be a common practice in America to go for a drive with a fire extinguisher in the car. Mildred (Francis McDormand) is returning home when she sees the eponymous billboards on which she is promoting her cause have been set alight. She rushes to quell the flames with an extinguisher that happens to be in the family sedan and when it is spent she tells her son ‘get the other one!’ – Mildred owns TWO fire extinguishers! There is a lot to love in Martin McDonagh’s latest drama, but there are a number of instances where you can’t help but ask ‘really?’ I could not believe that a bloke might be bashed and thrown out of a first-floor window, in front of a senior police officer, without the offender being charged, or that the police would be so witless as to not figure who bombed their station. Also, one posthumous explanatory letter is fine, but three? Morality tales, however, have a trajectory that has no truck with literalism, which is quite proper too. Establishing the mood of the story, in this case macabre, vengeful and a little surreal, is more important than worrying about the parts on which it’s constructed. Mildred’s beef is with Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), who, after seven months, has made no headway in finding who raped and murdered her daughter. She pays to have the billboards draw the town’s attention to Willoughby’s failure, but her ploy has brutal and bloody consequences – among them a dentist’s drill piercing a thumbnail that is as excruciating to watch as Luis Bunuel’s sliced eyeball. Torrents of expletives in the earlier scenes are meant to create levity through ‘dark humour’ (I found it unfunny), while McDonagh is at pains to remind us that we are in the world of poor white Southern trash. But for all of its indulgences (a dwarf – really?), the movie is gritty and engrossing, with a not very likeable but admirable protagonist – and Abbie Cornish unable to hide her Australian accent.

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