2017 Awards Profile: Martin McDonagh’s ‘Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri’ From Fox Searchlight Pictures

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FILM: “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
PRODUCERS: Martin McDonagh, Graham Broadbent and Peter Czemin
DISTRIBUTOR: Fox Searchlight Pictures

DIRECTOR: Martin McDonagh
WRITERS: Martin MCDonagh

CAST: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson, Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes, Abbie Cornish, Lucas Hedges, Caleb Landry Jones and Kathryn Newton

SYNOPSIS (via IMDB): “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is a darkly comic drama from Academy Award winner Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges”). After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter’s murder case, Mildred Hayes (Academy Award winner Frances McDormand) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Academy Award nominee Woody Harrelson), the town’s revered chief of police. When his second-in-command Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature mother’s boy with a penchant for violence, gets involved, the battle between Mildred and Ebbing’s law enforcement is only exacerbated.

WHY IT MIGHT SUCCEED:

Director Martin McDonagh’s “In Bruges” is widely considered one of the best original screenplays from across the pond. Dark humor interlaced with genuine character pathos landed the script a well-deserved Oscar nomination back in 2009. Before that, McDonagh already won an Oscar after putting himself on the map with the crime dramedy short “Six Shooter.” The maestro of words is clearly no slouch, though “Seven Psychopaths” didn’t create the ripple of awards-bait laughter that “In Bruges” promised in its wake. However, a year after “Best Picture” nominee “Hell or High Water” unexpectedly stunned, McDonagh’s prospects of landing in the race with similar fare increases tenfold.

Given its genre, Frances McDormand’s participation automatically creates Coen-esque expectations. Bloody, hilarious and contemplative is surely what’s to come with its small-town crime plot. In terms of pacing, McDonagh is closer to fellow Brit comedy director Edgar Wright than the Coen Brothers. Rapid-fire dialogue and jarring violence are par the course for McDonagh. Moreover, his talented ensemble certainly knows how to turn heads and subsequently keep them locked in place. Considering prestige studio Fox Searchlight is backing this, “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” seems to have more substance and gravitas than his prior films, which come off lighter than their gritty guise. With all the makings of a sleeper contender, “Three Billboards” could become McDonagh’s first foray into the upper category races. McDonagh looks to join writer-director scribes Quentin Tarantino and the Coens as Academy darlings with a twisted sense of storytelling.

Director Martin McDonagh

WHY IT MIGHT NOT SUCCEED:

The title recalls a former failed awards contender, “The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada.” History only remembers this Western led by Tommy Lee Jones for its flavorful albeit elongated title. There’s a strong possibility “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” could be dealt a similar fate. Overly specific to plot and general wordiness isn’t a staple of McDonagh’s. Therefore, it would be risky to shake up his formula coming off a movie nobody talks about anymore or seems to remember. “Seven Psychopaths” provided fan-servicing to McDonagh enthusiasts but did little else to convert outsiders to his black comedy cult. The looming concern is that “Three Billboards” will contain Academy-approved content but won’t be seen by enough eyeballs. Fox Searchlight Pictures’ “Battle of the Sexes” is a better pony to bet on due to its wider appeal, whereas “Three Billboards” caters to a niche crowd.

Unless it’s socially significant in some way, blue-collar crime isn’t the popular movie draw it once was. Nowadays, white-collar domestic crimes have become the biggest pop culture sensation. Just compare the successes of “Gone Girl” and “Girl on a Train” with the anemic “profits” of movies like “Cold in July” or “Blue Ruin” for instance. The sad truth is that “Three Billboards” is a few decades too old to prosper the way it deserves. Fox Searchlight will likely do a slow rollout and hope the critics raise enough awareness to increase future attendance. However, Fox Searchlight has better luck in the earlier part of the year when prestige material feels almost novel. Pushing “Three Billboards” to October just a few weeks after their higher profile “Battle of the Sexes” doesn’t allow enough breathing room for “Three Billboards” to thrive on its own as a timely awards release.

POTENTIAL OSCAR CATEGORIES IN PLAY:

  • Motion Picture –Martin McDonagh, Graham Broadbent and Peter Czemin
  • Director — Martin McDonagh
  • Actress in a Leading Role — Frances McDormand
  • Actor in a Supporting Role — Sam Rockwell or Woody Harrelson
  • Original Screenplay — Martin McDonagh
  • Cinematography — Ben Davis
  • Film Editing — Jon Gregory
  • Original Score — Carter Burwell

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MOTION PICTURE |DIRECTOR |
LEAD ACTOR | LEAD ACTRESS | SUPPORTING ACTOR | SUPPORTING ACTRESS | 
ORIGINAL SCREENPLAY | ADAPTED SCREENPLAY | ANIMATED FEATURE |
PRODUCTION DESIGN | CINEMATOGRAPHY | COSTUME DESIGN | FILM EDITING |
MAKEUP & HAIRSTYLING | SOUND MIXING | SOUND EDITING | VISUAL EFFECTS |
ORIGINAL SCORE | ORIGINAL SONG |
| DOCUMENTARY FEATURE | FOREIGN LANGUAGE |