As many who know me well have infuriatingly heard and had to witness persistently, I have many tattoos which almost all have some connotation to a movie or film as a whole. One of the most obscure inked on me is a quote from the 2008 directorial feature debut by Martin McDonagh, In Bruges. The film was an indescribable blend of drama and humour that few films had before, or after, been able to create such a potent ratio of the two. The intimacy of the film was something that has kept people talking about it for nearly a decade after. After McDonagh followed it up with his witty though ultimately underwhelming full-fledged crime-comedy, Seven Psychopaths. Five years later, the Englishman has given us another domestic set film, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. The comedy is scarce, nearly all characters are insufferable, and the story is littered with too many subplots, most of which fall flat; the film may have its moments of brilliance that we know McDonagh is capable of, but not enough of them to save it from mediocrity.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri tells the story of the mother of a woman who was raped and murdered seven months prior. Her disappointment with the police forces her to arise three billboards questioning their aptitude; the story arises from how this act affects herself, the police force, her family, and the community.
The Screen Actors Guild version of best film is the Best Ensemble award, and though each actor may not have given the performance of their lifetime, many came close and the sheer ability to have such an all-star cast in one film is reason enough. Francis McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Hedges, John Hawks, Zeljko Ivanek, Abbie Cornish, and Peter Dinklage fill the cast with talent most directors may never see. Few I’d like to highlight would be McDormand’s always stellar acting, Rockwell’s simpleton portrayal, Landry Jones soft and quiet depiction, and the scene-stealing Harrelson who gives probably a top three level of performances of his 92 acts.
The essential story of the billboards and their representation is unequivocally brilliant, but unfortunately, McDonagh doesn’t continue to roll with the radiance first established. Countless subplots delude the original and make it overly convoluted. While the actual scriptwriting/dialogue may be just as good as McDonagh has ever been, I’m worried his ambitions may have got the better of him.Pretty rarely will you hear someone comment, “I love the screenplay, just not the film,” but this may be one of those moments.
Remember the tale of Goldie Locks and the three bears? Well, Seven Psychopaths was just a bit too comical, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing was just a bit too dramatic, while In Bruges was just right. I’m all for a dark comedy, but when the drama of the film outweighs the minor humour that it envelops, then you have an issue. The jokes (if you’d like to call them that cause they’re usually dealing with horrific subject material) land when presented, but happen so infrequently it’s hard to stay in even a slightly humourous mood.
“The comedy is scarce, nearly all characters are insufferable, and the story is littered with too many subplots, most of which fall flat; the film may have its moments of brilliance that we know McDonagh is capable of, but not enough of them to save it from mediocrity.”
I wish I could see a film in a complete vacuum, with no context of the filmmaker’s prior work or works before this that are similar in nature, but ultimately, I don’t. This is a fine film; it’s finely enjoyable and entertaining; but that’s not enough for a third time director with a unanimous near-masterpiece under his belt. I encourage true cinephiles to seek out the film, but to understand what they should expect afterwards.
Cinema 35 Rating: 6/10