Score Reviews‎ > ‎

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri by Carter Burwell (Review)

posted Nov 14, 2017, 3:35 PM by Kaya Savas

Every once in a while a film comes along that seems to effortlessly tell a story that hits hard and hits deep. In a sea of studio tentpoles at one end and supreme indie filmmakers trying very hard to make art at the other, we sometimes find a middle ground. A writer and director that crafts a story that seems so organic and so finely crafted without carrying any pretentiousness behind it. Martin McDonaugh gained notoriety for being a playwright, he then made a short film titled Six Shooter which went on to win an Oscar for Best Live Action Short Film. He followed that success with the insanely brilliant In Bruges, and following that came the sharp and witty Seven Psychopaths. His third feature is Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and it’s his finest work to date. A huge part of the success of his filmmaking is also from his composer, Carter Burwell.

Carter Burwell has scored all three of McDonaugh’s feature films, and with Three Billboards he found a way to enhance the story to such a perfect unique place. By taking a Morricone-inspired approach, the score here is simple yet extremely effective in telling the story of Mildred and her anger-filled journey to make noise and find justice for her murdered daughter.

If you’ve never seen a McDonaugh film then you should definitely watch his others before jumping into this. His tone is usually described as “black comedy”, but his films emphasize drama heavily and they carry so much dramatic weight that it’s hard to see them as comedies. Yes there are funny moments, and these funny moments come from how brilliantly unique the characters are. They are more human moments rather than crafted comedic ones. The way Carter Burwell approaches this score was simple though. His score has two sides; an anger-filled march and then melancholic reflection. And the music is mostly focused on Mildred’s POV, even though the overall atmosphere for the score comments on everything happening in this town.

The sort of spaghetti western energy of the score is born from Mildred’s mission to call out the police and hopefully call attention to the case of her raped and murdered daughter, which has remained unsolved. The other side of the score is way more internal. It’s pure Burwell style in its approach of never commenting directly. Yes the tone is melancholic and a bit reserved, but theres some gentle beauty hiding in there. There are a few tender moments that show Mildred as the sweet and caring mother she is, and the score carries that in a subtle way even though we see her as this “take no shit” foul-mouthed warrior. The song choices also add so much depth to the film, they are very in sync with Burwell's tone. In fact the film ends with a song rather than score, and it works so perfectly. All of our characters end up redeeming themselves in some way in the end, and that truly is unique. This is a film with no "bad guy", every single character is flawed but they all go through their own hero's journeys. The score, while mainly commenting on Mildred's journey ends up being for every character in the film.

The theme of this movie is “anger begets more anger”, it’s a simple story that is just brilliantly executed. That masterful tone that the film achieves by balancing funny moments with truly emotional ones is all due to the score and choice of songs throughout. The final act and conclusion leaves an open-ended question to the audience very much like In Bruges, and we are left reflecting back on what we just experienced as an audience. Burwell’s score expertly paints us this story of pain and anger on the outside, with this raw helplessness on the inside that we’ve all felt when something truly makes us mad and we can’t do anything about it. The movie is pure McDonaugh and the score is pure Burwell. Their collaborative power is as strong Burwell's works with the Coen brothers. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is really just a film examining how we deal with anger and the frustration that brews from that, and the way Burwell’s score accents what’s onscreen is a perfect compliment to the narrative. This is such a fine example of filmmaking and score on the highest level.