Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ★★

Martin McDonagh has opted to invoke a distinct sense of place in this film that ultimately doesn't work and contradicts the lazy rendering of Middle America and the mid-west he's trying to build (things like placing the film in a non-existent town in Missouri and then shooting in North Carolina). Geographical reduction of the U.S. from a British filmmaker aside, this trivia serves as a microcosm for the many ways this film paints in overly broad strokes for the sole purpose of making its own morality play using these narratives, instead of serving the narratives that are true to these places. This leaves us with a film that likes to have its cake and eat it too when it comes to exploring gray areas, which is upsetting for the subject matter it tackles. While in his earlier work this plays as irreverent and extremely entertaining, this wears off and leaves the narrative ultimately unfulfilled and socially inadequate after the catharsis of McDormand's anger wears off (which is very, very good the first time watching). McDonagh probably did not make this film for survivors of the types of sexual and racial violence he depicts in the film, which makes their place in the plot all the more troubling. It frankly feels inappropriate to invoke these very real narratives solely for the purpose of playing around in thematic gray areas without better connecting them to reality and the way they affect people's lives. It's just not responsible.