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The unforgettable characters of Three Billboards writer-director Martin McDonagh


He’s only directed four movies to date, but playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh has given us some of the most memorable characters ever to grace the silver screen.

His latest, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is released this Friday and has grabbed four Golden Globes including Best Picture (Drama) and Best Actress for Frances McDormand. The story follows bereaved mother Mildred Hayes (McDormand) who challenges the local police force to capture her daughter’s murderer.

To that end she antagonises the authorities by renting out three billboards that directly undermine the authority of the much-admired Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) and his team. Meanwhile the assorted cast of local oddballs includes redneck deputy and mother's boy Dixon (fellow Golden Globe winner Sam Rockwell) and Mildred’s abusive ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes), all of whom end up being sucked into her vengeful orbit.

Before we are introduced to this next batch of unforgettable characters, let’s take a look back at several of McDonagh’s greatest creations.

Kid – Six Shooter (2004)

The first of the four films McDonagh has directed, Six Shooter is a short film that certainly isn’t short on drama, tragedy or unforgettable characters. With the majority of the film taking place within the confines of a train, there’s no escaping the Irish onslaught that is Rúaidhrí Conroy, known simply as Kid. 

With no filter to be found between his brain and his mouth Kid never fails to speak his mind, which unsurprisingly leads to a multitude of offensive comments and a lot of upset passengers. Whether it be a bizarre story about a flatulent cow or calling a bereaved parents’ baby ugly, there is something not quite right about this Kid’s demeanour, as his jokes, insults and smiles hide a savagely violent nature.

Ray and Ken – In Bruges (2008)

Sent to the cobblestoned streets of Bruges for a vacation after a job gone terribly wrong, Ray (Colin Farrell) and Ken (Brendan Gleeson) appear to be your typical odd couple. One wishes to soak up the religious culture of their surroundings whilst the other just wants to get the hell out of Belgium. It just so happens they're hitmen, bound together by a history of violence and carnage.

As the two enjoy the pleasures, seedy or otherwise, that Bruges has to offer (there are also gags aimed at those of limited stature and Canadians), they begin to garner a respect for each other, and eventually a friendship. Eventually Ken does everything he can to protect Ray from the violent life they have chosen. You’ll laugh during their disgruntled banter, and weep at their tragic finale.

Harry – In Bruges (2008)

The villain of In Bruges is not one to mince words. Harry (Ralph Fiennes) is Ray and Ken’s boss, his every other word a profanity laden with the impact of a cruise missile. This makes him simultaneously hilarious and terrifying. When he is shown for the first time (amid gasps at British thespian Fiennes being behind all the cursing), he smashes a phone to pieces and calls his wife an inanimate object. Delightful.

Having ordered Ken to execute Ray (who was behind the tragic death of a child), Harry finds his orders ignored. He then comes to Bruges himself to see the job through, unnerving nonchalance eventually giving way to fierce rage. A word of advice: don’t insult his kids. 

Billy – Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Before winning a Golden Globe for McDonagh’s upcoming Three Billboards, Rockwell lent his vast talent to the role of Billy in the writer-director’s surreal crime comedy Seven Psychopaths. As the supportive friend of Colin Farrell’s struggling screenwriter Marty, Rockwell displays all the charm that we have come to expect, his cool, calming, mellow nature infusing every frame.

Had Billy simply been the delightful dog thief he appears to be at the beginning, that would have been more than enough. But the fact the unassuming Billy is keeping a murderous secret makes him even more compelling. As good at stealing dogs as he is at wielding dual handguns, Billy is another pricelessly eccentric McDonagh creation.

Hans – Seven Psychopaths (2012)

Legendary character actor Christopher Walken brings his unique vocal style to the role of Hans, a cravat-wearing con artist with a troubled past.

Though at first he seems like nothing more than a friendly gent, Hans reveals himself to be so much more. A story, at first believed to be fictional, concerning a vengeful quaker who stalked and tormented his daughter’s murderer is revealed to be based on none other than Hans himself.

If that weren't enough to intrigue, Hans’ cravat is much more than a stylish accessory, and in fact conceals a vicious wound. It simply doesn’t get better than the combined weirdness of McDonagh and Walken.

Who's your favourite Martin McDonagh character? Click here to book your tickets for Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri and tweet us your choices @Cineworld.

Jon Fuge is an Unlimited card holder who blogs for Cineworld as part of our news team.