“Though it had the correct elements for a dark comedy, they didn’t play well together leaving the movie feeling confused.”
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is the new film from Martin McDonagh, who is probably best known for being the writer/director behind In Bruges. Looking for justice for her murdered daughter, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) decides to rent out three billboards calling out the local police department for not doing their jobs. This act is seen as wrong by not only the police department, but also the rest of the town who believe that Mildred is being too brash with her approach.
So I want to get this out of the way by saying that I’m a huge fan of In Bruges, and because of that I was really looking forward to Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. And don’t get me wrong, the broad strokes in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri are fucking amazing, but it’s the finer details that lose me. First let’s talk about this movie being a “dark comedy”. Now I love dark comedies because I like to laugh, but I also realize that the world is a shitty place. In Bruges (and I’m going to be referencing this movie a lot in this review, because it is probably the pinnacle of dark comedies) absolutely nailed what a dark comedy should be be creating a situation that was dark, but also adding comedy. Look at that amazing analysis I’m giving out here. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri doesn’t strike that balance in my opinion. Now the movie was dark, and it was funny, but those two emotions also have to work with each other; and in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri they didn’t. You can’t really have a movie wherein a teenage girl gets raped then set on fire, and then a few scenes later introduce a stereotypical “bimbo” character that would be commonplace on any sitcom. See you have the two elements, dark and funny, but they don’t mesh in the slightest. And that was the biggest problem I had with Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri; it seemed to work against itself.
Something else that struck me as odd while watching Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri was the film’s story. Now once again, the broad strokes are brilliant. A disgruntled mother taking her revenge out on the local police department by putting up billboards; fucking great idea. But once again I got lost in the finer details. One example I can give you was some weird writing involving the police themselves. Now when you have a story like this, you’re going to want to give the argument two sides to make it compelling. By that I mean, you have to make the cops at least a little bit relatable. You can’t have them be the ultimate villain, because then you don’t have much much of a story. So how do you make the police in this story relatable? Well, if I were writing it I would say that you could make it apparent to the audience that they are trying their hardest to solve the case, and it is just bad luck that they haven’t found anyone yet. You can demonstrate this by showing the police working long hours, slaving over case files, making calls to different counties; all of this will convey that they are trying their hardest, and it will make you feel bad for them. But what did the movie do? It just gave one of the cops cancer. The ultimate trump card for emotional manipulation, and it actually expected it to fucking work. You can’t introduce a character who we don’t know, and then make us sympathetic towards them because they have cancer. You actually have to do some work when writing to make that character redeemable on his own. None of that was done.
And to add on to this discussion of the film’s story, I found the pacing to be really fucking weird. The first half of the movie focuses on one police officer in particular. I’m going to try my best not to spoil the movie here, by the way. When that story seemingly comes to a conclusion, you think it is the entire movie coming to a conclusion because that’s all we know. Does that make sense? What I’m trying to say is the middle of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri could have very well been the ending. In fact, I was so convinced it was the ending I quickly finished my popcorn and drink in preparation of having to leave the theatre. Everything was wrapping up so nicely, and it would have been a pretty poignant note to end this tragic story on. But then it just kept going. Every single scene after this portion of the movie just kind of made things worse. With the titular ‘Three Billboards’ story seemingly over, I started to wonder where the movie was going. Were there going to be three more billboards? Was there going to be a new character introduced? Was I going to be forced to watch these characters age in real time and then eventually die peacefully in their sleep? Nothing was off the table in my eyes, because in my opinion the movie lost all direction in its second half.
But one thing, really the only thing, that I loved about Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri were the performances. I know I mentioned earlier that the different tones in the movie stuck out like sore thumbs and that point still stands, but it is worth noting that every actor in this movie navigated those tonal shifts brilliantly. Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri goes to some very dark fucking places, and everyone was able to bring that gravity to their roles; and the same goes for the comedy in the film as well. Now of course Frances McDormand was magical. I don’t think I’ve seen performance of hers that I’ve disliked, and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri continues that streak. The raw emotion that she had to show was really fucking impressive, even when she was acting opposite a shitty CGI deer. And of course her comedic timing is wonderful as well. But really who I think stole the show was Sam Rockwell who played Jason Dixon, one of the police officers in the film. Not to lessen any other performance in the film, but when watching Sam Rockwell I was transfixed. I’m not surprised at his acting ability, but in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri he really wasn’t Sam Rockwell anymore; he had fully transformed in Jason Dixon, a pretty slow momma’s boy who wants people to like him. This performance, especially as his character starts to grow toward the end of the film, was easily the highlight of Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.
Overall Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri wasn’t as great as I had hoped. Though it had the correct elements for a dark comedy, they didn’t play well together leaving the movie feeling confused. I also found the pacing to be infuriating, especially when the ‘ending’ of the movie takes place halfway through. At least the performances were good.
I give Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri a C