Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ★★

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.

The more I sit with it, the more frustrated I get.

None of it feels believable in any sense. I don't buy any of the characters as real people, not even as exaggerated versions. The actors try their damnedest, but their roles don't have character traits, only signifiers. Here's a woman who dresses like a mechanic, while works at a gift shop! Here's a cop who's irresponsible, but he has cancer! Here's a bad cop, but he reads comic books! Here are all the dumb bimbos! Here's a priest, whose only purpose is to have a scene in which you can sneer at the church. I've never realized that one of the characters was supposed to be gay, because the only reason for it is to hurl more colorful epithets to more people. This makes all the supposedly transgressive political incorrect jokes nothing more than cleverly written, empty edginess for edginess' sake.

The town is also a completely fake construct - more Pottersville than Pleasantville -, which would be fine if it was actually treated as a metaphorical space. Just like Bruges in In Bruges, which is the stage for a morality play. I still think that film is brilliant and beautiful, and hits all the right notes. This one wants to Talk About All The Important Issues Of America, and false notes keep getting hit.

Now, a lot of great art about it was born out of outsider perspectives, but McDonagh, to me - and, admittedly, I'm also looking at the country and its culture from the outside in -, is more like an accidental tourist who'd spent a night in the Midwest, and then tried to tell a satirical tale about the rottenness and hypocrisy of modern-day USA. (Or sort of modern day: the script was written eight years ago.) He offers no insight into anything. He touches on a lot of subjects that seem profound: justice, revenge, forgiveness, redemption, police brutality, racism. But what it is, really, that this film tells us about these matters? That anger is a bad adviser? That cops are human, too? That an asshole with righteous anger and another asshole with a streak of prejudiced violence might get along? All sound, little substance.

Still, on the surface, the film is mostly entertaining, snappy, technically adept, well-acted (Caleb Landry Jones MVP). McDonagh has a real knack for language, for memorable lines. The constant tonal whiplash rarely works, but when it does, it can be legitimately thrilling. (The interrogation scene between Mildred and Willoughby has one of the few genuine, authentic emotional moments in the film, and it works like gangbusters.) But on the whole, there's just not a lot for me to latch onto. It's a simplistic movie masquerading as an ambiguous one, a fundamentally void exercise.

(One other thing that didn't help the film: two dudebros sitting in the row behind me, laughing HARD at every instance a black character, a woman or Peter Dinklage appeared on the screen. They didn't even wait for the punchlines of the script: the mere fact that these people exist seemed extremely hilarious to them.)

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