Updated: Apr 17, 2018
4K ULTRA HD REVIEW
"THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI"
4K Ultra HD, Blu-ray, DVD, Digital, 2017, rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual references; Streaming via
Best extra: "Crucify 'Em: The Making of 'Three Billboards'"
MARTIN McDONAGH was on a bus trip though America's South 17 years ago when he got the idea for "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri."
The British playwright and filmmaker ("In Bruges") saw "something not dissimilar" to the billboards in his Oscar-nominated movie and it stuck in his mind. But it wasn't until 10 or 11 years ago that he began wondering what kind of person would put up a statement like that, he says in the revealing making-of feature, "Crucify 'Em'."
"Once I decided that it was a woman, a mother, the movie wrote itself to a degree."
About the same time, Frances McDormand ("Fargo"), who won her second best-actress Oscar as the bereaved mother Mildred Hayes, was talking to McDonagh in New York and broke her cardinal rule: She asked, "Why don't you write a character for me? I can't believe it came out of my mouth," she says. Good thing it did: Ten years later, he sent her a script.
It's been months since her teenage daughter was raped and murdered and the investigation has gone nowhere, so Mildred decides to ignite a figurative fire, renting three decrepit billboardsoutside town that read, "Raped While Dying," "And Still No Arrests?" "How Come, Chief Willoughby?" Soon, she's confronting volatile, racist cop Jeff Dixon (Oscar winner Sam Rockwell, "Moon") and Ebbing's revered police chief (Oscar nominee Woody Harrelson, "Natural Born Killers"), a good man who's dying of pancreatic cancer.
At this point, there's nothing more to say about McDormand's gut-punch performance, except there isn't another actor who could have played Mildred and that she modeled her swagger after that of John Wayne's in the classic John Ford Westerns. With her jumpsuit, boots and bandana, who's to doubt her? "Three Billboards," which was also nominated for best picture, original screenplay, original score and editing (but, oddly, not best director), boasts a host of memorable performances, chief among them Caleb Landry Jones ("Get Out") as Red Welby, who runs the advertising company, Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones") as James, the car salesman who has a thing for Mildred, and John Hawkes ("Winter's Bone') as Mildred's abusive ex-husband Charlie.
And just in case its Southern Gothic roots weren't apparent, look for the copy of Flannery O'Connor's "A Good Man Is Hard to Find" that's lying on Red's desk.
A review in the National Catholic Reporter made the same connection: "If you are familiar with O'Connor's Southern Gothic fiction with its humor of the absurd fleshed out by eccentric characters in a Christ-haunted culture who can and do go to surprising extremes, you can just sit back and watch how grace holds their lives together and transcends the darkness that seems too heavy to bear."
If you haven't read O'Connor, put her on your list. While you're at it, add "Three Billboards" to your to-see list, right at the top.
Sourced from a 2K master and then upconverted to 4K, the Ultra HD version has a slight uptick in sharpness, especially in British cinematographer Ben Davis' ("Guardians of the Galaxy") wide shots along the country road where the three reddish-orange billboards were built near Black Mountain, N.C. The lettering is more pronounced, as are the distant trees on a surrounding hillside. Plus, the clarity reveals finer detail in the costumes, like the woven top worn by Australian actress Abbie Cornish as Mrs. Anne Willoughby, wife of the police chief, when she visits Mildred at the town’s gift shop.
The HDR toning produces a much snapper image from the brighter highlights to the darker shadows without losing detail, as evidenced during the two-plus minute steadycam shot of Officer Jason Dixon going on a rampage and nearly killing Red Welby when he throws him out a second-story window. The facial toning also emanates naturally.
Both the 4K and Blu-ray feature a low key, six-channel DTS-HD soundtrack, with McDonagh's weighty dialogue predominantly front and center, plus an organic, acoustic twist from Oscar-nominated composer Carter Burwell, who uses piano, guitar, clarinet and sprinkles of strings and woodwinds for his take on 1960s spaghetti Westerns. He’s spent much of his career working the Coen Brothers. The soundtrack also features tunes from Joan Baez, the Four Tops, Townes Van Zandt and Monsters of Folk.
- Craig Shapiro and Bill Kelley III