“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”
Directed by Martin McDonagh
A huge Martin McDonagh fan, I couldn’t wait to see this film. I mean, his irreverence combined with small-town America and a cast filled with heavyweights who can handle McDonagh’s version of crazy reality? What could possibly go wrong?
Well, quite a bit…actually. What starts out as a Coen-esque landscape of kooky characters in a larger than their lives situation, inexplicably devolves in to a REAL drama, with stakes that matter more to us than those actually experiencing them. While much of it is very, very good, especially the performances, it seems that child rape, racially-motivated police beatings, wife beating and euthanasia are just a bit TOO real for McDonagh’s usual sense of style. And, alas, I wondered, after more than a few scenes, what he was trying to say. I don’t know if the performances were so good that there was no ignoring the connection to these realities, or if he thought it would just come across as more lighthearted than it did. Or, and this is certainly his prerogative, he decided to take on a little more this time…try something that hits us harder than the goofiness of “In Bruges” or the black humor of “Seven Psychopaths”. But, ultimately, it comes across as a square peg in a round hole. NOW, if you’ve never seen a McDonagh film, or don’t associate him with a particular style, you might really enjoy it. I know several people who did. Me? I spent the whole third act wondering what I was supposed to think of it all.
What he does manage to master is his pace of storytelling. I was never bored, found myself completely invested in the characters and couldn’t wait for the outcome. Which is why his ultimate experience of the film was so vexing. It’s also beautifully shot with muted colors that mimic the specter of that dark cloud hanging over the lives of those in this town.
And, the acting is fantastic. Sam Rockwell is just perfection…even if there are HUGE questions about why we should give a crap about his character given his unexplained racist behavior. That the actor manages to overcome this giant predicament and keep us invested in his story speaks volumes to his ability to find the humanity underneath. Frances McDormand is mostly angry, but, it’s Frances McDormand, so who gives a shit. She’s still fantastic…heart-broken and aching for understanding while pummeling the air with the force of Norma Rae. It’s a real master class. Woody Harrelson, Lucas Hedges, Peter Dinklage and the once-a-year appearance of John Hawkes round out this perfect ensemble. But it’s one or two minor characters that thankfully remind us that this is, indeed, a McDonagh film…most notably Rockwell’s mother, Sandy Martin, who practically steals the film. And the advertising “tycoon”, Red Welby, played by the brilliant Caleb Landry Jones, without whom Rockwell’s character has nothing to play off of, must be acknowledged.
Finally, Carter Burwell’s score is so obviously derivative of his Coen Brothers work that I thought it must be someone else copping his sound. But, no, he cannibalized a good chunk of his “Hudsucker” and “Miller’s Crossing” scores (you could do a LOT worse). Luckily the songs licensed for the soundtrack fit the surroundings and the moods much more successfully.
Listen, this is a pretty good film that will garner a ton of Award nominations, if not wins (although I could see it winning a Spirit Award or two). McDonagh has set the bar so high that maybe “Three Billboards” couldn’t help but fall short of what his fans have come to expect. I’d be curious to know what you all think…since, as ever, and maybe more with this film than most, your mileage may vary.
R-Rated trailer attached (NSFW):
Written on 12/19/2017