At various moments I fought back tears, laughed out loud, wanted to punch a character, wanted to comfort a character, needed to repress my rage.
And it’s this last emotion which ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbings, Missouri’ is really about, although it takes a very long time for any of the screwed-up small-town individuals to understand what they are doing to each other and themselves.
What makes the script by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges) so strong is the characterisation. People we see initially as bad guys turn out to be the opposite, or eventually achieve redemption; hero characters have feet of clay, a million miles from the unsullied Hollywood stereotype.
If that sounds a bit Shakespearian, it’s because that’s the impression I was left with; suspecting that the author must be very well acquainted with the Bard’s dark plays.
There are incidents of comic absurdity, extreme violence and even poetry (especially when the protagonist talks to a deer about her raped, burned and murdered teenage daughter), which don’t quite seem real. They’re not meant to. This is drama, not documentary; which is also like Shakespeare.
McDonagh’s edgy yet empathetic writing provides the cast with some extraordinary opportunities for truthful and convincing scenes of dialogue and soliloquy, and these are powerfully executed.
It might seem pretentious to imagine the town of Ebbings as a near-psychopathic metaphor for an entire country which has lost its way behind a red mist of hatred. However, there is a reference to Iraq near the end which suggests that might not be an entirely erroneous interpretation.