This potty-mouthed, tender tragedy-cum-comedy sees life and death collide with condemnation and redemption. There are hints of the Western with themes of vigilante justice and Medieval themes like rape, murder, and vengeance. In a nutshell, a grief-stricken mother name and shames the police officers who have failed to identify or catch her daughter’s murderer.
British-Irish director Martin McDonagh once again brings inappropriate giggles to the extremely serious subject matter. But most importantly, he recognizes the chaotic nihilism of the narrative with a sorrowful meditation on the all-consuming poison of rage. Characters struggle to make some semblance of sense out of the chaos, and the dark humor of the movie is dwarfed by the sincerity of the mission statement.
After grieving for seven months following the murder of her daughter, Angela, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) has the local roadside billboards adorned with comments taunting police chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) for his inability to find a suspect. In Mildred’s words, the police are “too busy torturing black folks” to actually solve any crimes. Bozo cop Jason Dixon (Sam Rockwell) is also along for the ride and often embodies the very things Mildred ridicules about the police.
Beneath the exterior, however, even the most seemingly cold-hearted of Ebbing’s residents live complex existences. Adman Red Welby (Caleb Landry Jones) significantly reads “A Good Man is Hard to Find’, while Willoughby is really a family man who always attempts to see the good in everyone, including the abrasive and infantile Dixon. And even Mildred, though understandable, struggles with demons that torture her already-suffering son as she pursues her guilt-driven grudge. She truly wrestles with the possibility that God doesn’t exist and the world is full of emptiness and meaninglessness.
There are nods to the great spaghetti Westerns like ‘High Noon,’ and also references to the classic American gothic epitomized by movies like Psycho. It is a parable, with a realism underscored by an almost magical presence that really captures the tone of the US landscape. From depicting those lonely billboards in the morning mist to shots of flames that echo the burning crosses of the Ku Klux Klan, the viewer is never far removed from the fine balance between chaos and tragedy.
The cast is impressive and brings meat and depth to even the film’s peripheral characters. And McDormand finds her ultimate character in the deadpan fury that Mildred exudes. She speaks volumes without saying a word, adding to the brilliance of the script’s dialogue. Her body language throughout speaks of her determination and conflictedness as she enacts her plot.
It is for the viewer to decide whether these characters are on paths to redemption or destruction. There are no clear-cut moral absolutes, but some interpretations have caused a backlash from certain critics. Talk of awards for the film has brought more heat onto the debate, but perhaps some are missing the point. The racial politics aren’t the ultimate thing to contemplate; rather we should ponder the chaos that is left in the wake of violence, and the possibility that with careful reflection we can transcend its hateful, toxic legacy.
You can watch the movie for yourself now on ShowBox APK for PC and see what side of the debate you fall on. The dark comedy and punchy script work as well as in any of McDonagh’s films, but the tragedy of the characters’ experiences is what you will remember most.