There are very few films that I would call perfect. If you asked me on a different day, I would say that there is no such thing as a perfect film, although I’d say that there are a few that come very close. Some of these films would be Drive, Apocalypse Now, Pulp Fiction, and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Not only are a lot of these films considered masterpieces, but they are also considered modern classics. Drive for it’s amazing style and characterization, Apocalypse Now for its incredible characters and iconic moments, Pulp Fiction for its unique understanding of pop culture and the types of media it was inspired by, and Raiders of the Lost Ark for it’s incredible storytelling and amazing action sequences.
But at the core of all of these films is a great story with well fleshed out characters who all have understandable and relatable goals. These films all understand their characters and don’t manipulate the audience with cheap and weightless emotional moments that have no purpose in the story. Every second of screen time of each of these films is incredibly important. I would consider all of these things necessary to make a perfect film. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, without a doubt in my mind, is a perfect film.
While having only made three feature length films along with a thirty minute short film that won him an Oscar, Martin McDonagh has proven that he is one of the best filmmakers of the twenty first century. With darkly hilarious crime comedies such as In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths already under his belt, Three Billboards is not only his funniest film, but it’s his darkest as well. Without going into spoilers, this film shows that McDonagh is a master at executing tonal shifts flawlessly, and this film has some of the most effective ones ever put on screen. Not since Audition have I seen a film go from being hilarious and lighthearted to being so violent, gritty and disturbing, and if I’m being honest, this film does it the best.
Not only is the writing in this film absolutely spectacular, but the acting is phenomenal. Woody Harrelson, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage and even Caleb Landry Jones were all fantastic, but the obvious standout is Frances McDormand. Even though I absolutely love her work with the Coen Brothers, this is without a doubt her best performance that she has ever given. And while I can go on praising McDormand for days, I thought that the one who stole the movie for me the most was Sam Rockwell as the dopey Deputy Dixon. Not only is he somehow both hilarious and infuriating at the same time, but his character has one of the most satisfying and interesting arcs that I’ve ever seen done in a movie. His character starts out as deplorable and obnoxious, but eventually becomes one of the smartest and most interesting characters in the movie.
What really struck me the most about this film was it’s style and location. Setting the film in a town so small as Ebbing, Missouri, the tone and atmosphere the film gives off is something like a western in the vein of High Noon. While it does take place in a very modern setting, the way you get to know the town and it’s people over the course of the film makes it feel like an old western where an outlaw protagonist faces against the town law enforcement to get true justice. The roles fit perfectly. McDormand is the outlaw, Harrelson and the rest of the department are the law, Dinklage is the mysterious stranger who helps the outlaw achieve her goals, and so on. The music and look of the film also makes it feel like a contemporary western, the closest comparison being with last year’s Hell or High Water.
Even though that is a great film, I would definitely say that this is the better of the two. Instead of relying on a ton of action and suspense related scenes to draw out tension, this film uses its dialogue and character interactions to keep the audience on the edge of their seats, and I’d say that it succeeds about 110% of the time. I can absolutely see this film winning the Oscar for best original screenplay, and maybe taking home a few others as well. Please, do yourself a favor and see this as soon as possible. It’s modern classic, and will go down in history as one of the best films ever made. McDonagh has done it again.