I must admit, as I move into writing about Martin McDonagh’s 2017 film, Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri, that I am most definitely not a McDonagh fan. His films and plays generally have the cynicism of Coen brothers, without their stunning abilities to tell stories. Read my nearly outraged review of his In Bruges.
Both play with broad caricatures, but the Coens are clearly better in casting. But this time McDonagh has been lucky with a kind-of Coen figure, Joel Coen’s brilliant wife, Frances McDormand, who totally encompasses every figure she has ever played (I’ve seen perform her with the Wooster Group at least 4 or 5 times). In McDonagh’s new work, she plays a kind of Medusa named Mildred, whose heart has seemingly turned to stone with the death of her daughter, who was raped while dying. Along with that event and an ex-husband who has spent years abusing her, Mildred no longer has any patience for the men in her life, particularly when one of the members of the Ebbing, Missouri police force, a deputy named Dixon (Sam Rockwell), is also a racist who clearly enjoys in beating up young black boys.
Everyone in this small town seems to be just at the edge of sanity, with all of them so deeply hurt that one might even imagine this is the story of so many small American communities being destroyed by the opioid crisis and lack of jobs. Well, Midwest America has always been a paradisal world in which innocent people are tortured and destroyed. Even the urbane Truman Capote knew that; after all, he had grown up in the deeply dark American South. I spent much of my early life drawing those very connections, and they’re still there today. Small town American simply ain’t always nice.