By Mark Saldana

Rating: 4 (Out of 4 Stars)

At this year’s festival, I had the immense pleasure of watching what might be the best movie of 2017.  As the year isn’t over just yet, that title still remains to be seen.  For now, though, I do not know of any one film that has really won my heart to such a strong degree or had such a profound impact on my soul.  2017, as a whole, will go down as a time of hurting, revelation (not in the biblical sense, hopefully), and enlightenment for some.  Upon much reflection on Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, I cannot think of another film this year that has a firmer grasp on the pulse of the human race and all of the problems and ways we hinder ourselves from improving each other.

Frances McDormand stars as Mildred Hayes, a divorced, single mother still reeling and struggling with the multiple emotions associated with the tragic rape and murder of her teen daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton).  One particular feeling stands out, though.  That feeling is frustration with the little to no progress made by her town’s police department in the investigation of the crime.  Feeling ignored and not taken seriously by Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his deputies, Mildred takes matters into her own hands and challenges the department by renting three billboards just outside of town with messages that call for action.  This causes much controversy among town members and within the police department.  Though Sheriff Willoughby sincerely wants to help, his hands are tied in more ways than one. Despite the sheriff’s willingness to allow the billboards to remain, the townspeople, including his deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), feel uncomfortable with the billboards and want to silent the angry, grieving mother.

Martin McDonagh, a writer/director known for his comedies In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, brings his brand of riotous, pitch dark humor to a more serious story with probably the greatest stakes of all his films so far.  Three Billboards is a perfect allegory of the human race in recent years and deals with the very human problems of pain, violence, anger, fear, ignorance and prejudice.  It does, however, offer a beautiful glimmer of hope amidst its deep seeded despair and head-banging frustration.  McDonagh’s film focuses not only on a mother in mourning and pain, but also how a microcosm of a community deals with the harsh reality of violence and tragedy.  McDonagh does an exceptional job of breaking down the community and critiquing the various issues which divide people and set them against one another.  To make the experience even more incredible, the filmmaker mixes in hilarious humor that makes the scenarios and character development genuine and realistic.  The characters are superbly developed, most of whom have a mix of both endearing traits and not so likable ones.

The amazing cast in the film do outstanding work in bringing these characters to life.  In addition to the lead members of the cast, the film features great work and appearances by Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Caleb Landry, Kathryn Newton, and Lucas Hedges.  In the main roles, Woody Harrelson gives a stellar performance worthy of at least some award nominations.  I feel even more strongly about the acting of Sam Rockwell, whose turn in this film is sure to receive some supporting actor nods.  The development of his character is probably the most fascinating to behold in the film.  Last, but definitely not least whatsoever, Frances McDormand should definitely earn herself multiple best actress nominations for her role as the bold, often abrasive, flawed, but also heroic Mildred Hayes, a character flooded with various emotions and a loving mother who needs satisfaction and closure over the loss of her daughter.

I was so happy the the Austin Film Festival picked up this movie this year as it one of the best of 2017.  Though the movie can be as abrasive and brazen as its main protagonist, it is a much needed reality check for all humanity.  I cannot think of a more relevant film this year and am happy that Martin McDonagh was able to get it released during a time when people need it the most.


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