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My 12 for ’18: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” & All This Anger, Man

It’s that time of year. I’ll counting down my top twelve films of the year daily on the blog between now and New Year. I’ll also be discussing my top ten on the Scannain podcast. This is number five.

All this anger, man. Penelope said to me the other day: it just begets greater anger, you know? And it’s true.

Everybody is angry.

The modern era has been defined as an “age of anger.” Anger has been demonstrated to travel faster through social networks than other emotions like love or joy. Studies suggest that Americans are particularly angry, with almost seventy percent of the country angry over the direction of the nation. Anger and resentment are calculated to be among the largest factors in the election of Donald Trump, and the passing of the Brexit referendum.

Of course, not all anger is created equal. Some anger is justified, perhaps even by centuries of oppression and systemic violence. Some anger is useful, in that it motivates grassroots activism that works towards a constructive good. Indeed, there is an argument that short control releases of anger might actually be healthy in the long term, something of a venting mechanism to prevent things from escalating to the point of an explosion.

If anything is clear, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is not about that kind of anger. It is about the combustible, explosive kind.

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Non-Review Review: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

“All this anger. It only begets more anger.”

Ironically enough, given the title, the anger in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri never seems to ebb. Martin McDonagh’s small town black comedy drama is a parable about grief that metastasises into all-consuming rage. Fire is a recurring fixation for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, a potent metaphor for both the scorched earth left behind by trauma and the tendency of such anger to swallow up everything in its path. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a cautionary fable.

Reading the signs.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri benefits from a number of different factors. McDonagh’s script is smart and well-constructed, wry in the right places and emotional when it counts, imbuing the characters and their surroundings with an organic and lived-in quality that enriches the story built around them. The locations are atmospheric and effective, creating a sense of place that extends beyond mere geography. The cast is fantastic, particularly supporting turns from Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell.

However, Frances McDormand is the engine that drives Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. While the film features several set pieces built around fire, the hottest flame burns at the heart of the central character. As enraged mother Mildred Hayes, McDormand captures the energy and the depth of a woman raging against a system that let her down, an unjust world that denies her closure, and her own sense of guilt and responsibility.

Ebbing and flowing.

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