Chris’s review published on Letterboxd:
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri [1.5/4]
- Sacrifices the nuanced moral dilemmas of In Bruges and the self-aware structural insanity of Seven Psychopaths for a tonally confused mess of melodrama that is consistently obnoxious and comedy that leans too cheaply into the vulgarity that McDonagh has always loved but has managed to be more creative and fun with in the past.
The writing is often times a cheap and lazy excuse for justice porn right until like the last 15-20 minutes, which like yeah it feels satisfying but it's satisfying in an easy and ultimately uninteresting way because so much of the social commentary is so on the nose and so one-sided in ways that sometimes make total sense in being one-sided but usually just kind of feel over the top, particularly in how vehement and pervasive the townspeople as a whole respond to the billboards. I also feel like the inconsistent tone comes from terrible pacing, both in the story and within the emotional landscapes of the characters -- like yes people tell jokes when they're sad, I know this very well, but in this people shift and change their attitudes completely several times within like a couple of minutes, it feels really bizarre and inhuman, and that really dampened the performances for me. Like, I think a lot of the actors are doing their best, but I think that the jagged emotional pacing and the singular voice that McDonagh writes all of his characters in (which sometimes plays to his advantage but here it feels really odd and doesn't really work) really kind of damage the performances. I don't see what people are getting out of Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson is decent, and really the only actors that I got a lot out of were Peter Dinklage and Caleb Landry Jones. All the other characters kind of blended together in this obnoxious and weirdly inhuman world of McDonagh's echo chamber.
I also think he represents the place itself poorly. Not like, in a negative light, I don't care about that, but like location and world and atmosphere are a huge element in McDonagh's material. With In Bruges he creates a very distinct and vivid feeling of Bruges, and it works really well. You feel like you're in that village. You feel the history and the culture and the beauty of it, but also the exhausting boredom and annoyance of it as well. And even in Seven Psychopaths those desert locations feel like the perfect spot for the insanity of the story. But here, it feels like any generic portrayal of small town Americana. This doesn't feel distinctly like Ebbing, Missouri in the way that Bruges felt distinct, it feels just like any shitty small town, which further adds to the bland, generic coalescing of all the parts of this town into one indistinct and blurry sum, rather than a place of numerous people and spots.
Not all of the comedy was ineffective though, there were some jokes that stuck with me. And I really dug the stairway sequence, and even though the last like 20 minutes do drag on I think they stable out in terms of character motivation and emotional pacing, and I think the ending itself is really well done. But the rest of it just grated on me. Despite some solid elements, as a whole this just felt obnoxious, on-the-nose, cheap, lazy, and emotionally flat. To me, at least.