This role was literally and figuratively made for Frances McDormand, and her character in the dark comedy teaches us an important life lesson.
Director-writer Martin McDonagh specifically wrote the part which Frances McDormand plays in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" for her. And thankfully, her husband, Joel Coen, persuaded the iconic actor to take it. It's a performance that has "Oscar" written all over it.
McDormand portrays Mildred Hayes, an aggrieved and angry mother whose daughter was beaten, raped and burned alive. It's been seven months since the horrific tragedy with no leads in sight. At her wit's end, she cleverly decides to rent three billboards outside of town, delivering a message to Sheriff William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson at his best) hoping to get his ass in gear. He declares "Looks like we got a war on our hands," and the showdown begins.
As if prepared for battle, Mildred is constantly clad in mechanic-like coveralls and a bandana, for emphasis when needed. She has stink-eye and profanity down to a science and is always the smartest person in the room. No one escapes Mildred's wrath, from bigoted, mama's boy deputy, Dixon (a surprisingly complex Sam Rockwell) to her former wife-beater husband (John Hawkes). Even the local priest and an inept dentist (who gets a taste of his own medicine) aren't above reproach.
McDonagh ("In Bruges") has managed to take a tale of grief and suffering and raise it to a level of very dark humor with immense skill. His main characters are multifaceted and possess relatability, even in their darkest moments. The dialogue is razor sharp, devastatingly sad and, at times, winsomely witty. And it's delivered by some of the best actors in the business.
But it's McDormand who owns this devilishly delicious film. Her demeanor and facial expressions speak volumes. We can't wait for what will pop out of her foul mouth next. And when we least expect it, she divulges yet another side of her character from out of nowhere. McDormand's performance is a rare one, destined to go down in history (think: "Fargo" par).
"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" is a film about the impact of loss and how people deal with it differently. But moreover, it teaches us how we should expect the unexpected in others. And that the ability to change is within us all if we stand back and let it occur.
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