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Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
  • Composed by Carter Burwell
  • Varèse Sarabande / 2017 / 44m

With a great cast led by Frances McDormand, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a black comedy in which McDormand plays a mother whose daughter is murdered; unable to solve the case, the local police purchase the three billboards in question to appeal for help.  While it’s not the sort of film likely to set the box office alight, it has been almost universally acclaimed by critics as one of 2017’s best.  Carter Burwell has much experience scoring this sort of thing thanks to his relationship with the Coen brothers and his score certainly features a lot of the musical trademarks you might associate with their films.  There is a folksy sound to much of it which is very attractive and appealing, and the composer deftly treads around the black humour as he so often does so skilfully, injecting genuine emotion and feeling into it along the way.

There are certainly similarities to be found with Fargo – while the Three Billboards theme is not as expansive – and the orchestration sometimes more akin to a western – it has that same vibe going on.  Alongside variations on that theme, there is more string-laden work which is where the emotion is to be found, sometimes with the homely addition of a piano.  The secondary theme is quite a thing – touching, graceful, tender, warm – yet sometimes quite profoundly sad.  The gentle duet between piano and guitar in “Billboards are Back” is to die for.  It’s a work that’s full of charm, it’s entirely melodic even when it does enter darker territory – it’s really very impressive.  It’s short, though – half of the 44-minute album is taken up by songs, dotted throughout the score.  Program them out and you get a really nice, very colourful and evocative little score which is completely, unmistakably Carter Burwell.

*** 1/2
Charming, evocative, tuneful drama | |

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  1. David (Reply) on Thursday 11 January, 2018 at 05:24

    James, your synopsis is hilarious – you really haven’t seen this film, have you?

    Anyway, agree about Burwell’s score. Love both the ‘western’ and the melancholy theme. Each is given typically classy, interesting variations that border on the sublime. At 20+ minutes only, I’m finding that it’s easy to just play this over and over again.