Here we go, the 2018 Academy Award nominations have been announced today – and there is no surprise that Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri has earned itself quite a decent number of nominations – 7, to be exact – since they have already reaped a solid harvest among this season’s awards’ shows before the Hollywood’s golden clock rang its bells. After premiering in September 2017, in the main competition of the 74th Venice International Film Festival, the film won the People’s Choice Award of the 2017 Toronto International Film Festival. AFI named it among the top 10 films of the year, and the film already won 4 Golden Globes out of 6 nominations, while the jury is still out on the 9 BAFTA nominations – and this is just the tip of the iceberg.
As the title itself suggests, the story takes place in a small town – Ebbing – in Missouri. Mildred Hayes (McDormand) is full of anger and grief; her teenage daughter, Angela, was raped and murdered seven months ago, with no progress of the official investigation. Mildred decides to do something about it and rents three abandoned billboards outside of town. The signs that she gets posted are succinct and sharp; on blood-red backgrounds, they scream “RAPED WHILE DYING”, “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?”, “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?”. In no time, the billboards have the whole town in an uproar, especially since it’s an open secret that sheriff Willoughby (Harrelson) is dying from cancer. Mildred gets harassed by the townspeople, especially by officer Jason Dixon (Rockwell), but she, blind to anything else but her own pain, refuses to stand down.
Martin McDonagh, known for In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths, which he both wrote and directed, returned after 5 years with another black comedy crime film, in which he cast some already-tested, familiar faces – Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish and Željko Ivanek – a cast worth noting, especially since it is lead by none other than the magnificent Frances McDormand.
The great cast serves the truly clever, true-to-the-bone writing with an amazing balance between comedy and tragedy. The film subtly – and then, five seconds later, with the sharpest verbal cuts – addresses several issues that plague the modern America, with a moral to the story that is more screwy than straight, making it much more profound and at the same time, more ambitious than McDonagh’s previous works. It centers on a strong female character that is as developed as it gets, giving McDormand a chance to showcase her range well. Her nomination was never a question, for she is known to be the strongest contender for the Best Actress Academy Award. And she does not shine alone in this film – both Rockwell and Harrelson are brilliant in their roles, bringing the nuances of humanity displayed in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri further, for that extra mile. It is rare for two actors from the same film to receive an Oscar nomination for the the best supporting actor, but Rockwell and Harrelson achieved just that.
But there’s more to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri than the great screenplay, directing and cast. There are moments in the movie where we almost move from the American Midwest to the Wild Wild West, where you feel like a ball of hay is about to roll down the street before the characters have a face-off, majorly due to Ben Davis’ cinematography, with the feeling furthered by Carter Burwell’s score (with a selection of songs by Joan Baez, Monsters of Folk, Townes Van Zandt, and the Four Tops that complement the score itself). Davis and Burwell have both worked on previous McDonagh’s projects, and he seems to have put together a team that can do nothing but deliver.
Given the intensity of the film, the amazing performances by the cast and the overall quality, the number of nominations seems almost low. McDonagh himself was nominated in the Best Original Screenplay category, but got snubbed in the Best Director category. Still, on March 4th 2018, it seems that we will be watching a showdown between The Shape of Water (13 nominations) and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – Dunkirk actually received 1 nomination more (8 in total), but was nominated mostly in the technical categories. Well, whatever the final score my be: Well earned, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. Well earned.
Written by Sanja Struna
All photos © 2017 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation