LFF 2017: Frances McDormand is attention-grabbing and award-worthy in Martin McDonagh's foul-mouthed dramedy
Frances McDormand is one mean-ass mother in the third feature from British-Irish director Martin McDonagh, following Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges. She plays Mildred Hayes, whose daughter Angela was raped and murdered seven months previous, a crime for which no one has been arrested. Exasperated at the lack of progress, and far from the sort to keep quiet about it, Mildred sets about making a spectacular nuisance of herself, buying up advertising space on the titular billboards to confront the chief of police (Woody Harrelson) about his inadequacies in big, black letters.
The local priest tells her sternly, 'Nobody is with you on this,' before she tears him a new one. There's a western-esque dimension to Mildred's fight as she takes a solo stand against those who insult her with their inaction. McDormand is magnificent (inscribe that Oscar immediately), a fount of barely, sometimes not remotely contained fury, while the pain emblazoned on her face is as bold as the bandana and boilersuit combo that lends her gangster swagger.
Unpredictability abounds and expletives fly in a story that ultimately sees shambolic cop Jason (superb stuff from Sam Rockwell) move further into the picture. There are laughs, lots of them – big, hearty and almost always in bad taste – however the crime itself chills the blood, and Three Billboards never for a second stops being sad about it. Combining such elements is a delicate, difficult balance but it's one that McDonagh achieves just as surely as his brother John Michael did in Calvary.
A cast of the calibre of Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges and John Hawkes complement their leading lady but it's all about McDormand – truly a performer you can build a whole film around, and one who can whisk a scene away from even her most seasoned peers.
With female mistreatment and male failings defining the narrative, Three Billboards acts as a fine platform for the associated anger. The kind of 'nasty' woman Trump and his cronies fear, and an abuse victim herself, there are genuinely no limits to what the mad-as-hell Mildred will do to make people sit up and finally listen. The film, too, just keeps tipping fuel onto the fire. What fun it is to watch it rage.
Screening on Sun 15 Oct as part of the London Film Festival 2017. General release from Fri 12 Jan.