Martin McDonagh’s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – which he wrote and directed – is a film that seems to be about life in small-town America where a woman – Mildred Hayes, played by Frances McDormand – feels that the local police department, led by Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), hasn’t been doing enough to solve the rape and murder of her daughter, so she rents three billboards just outside of town to broadcast a message she hopes will kick the police department into gear. The film explores the fallout from those billboards and how this unsolved murder and how Mildred’s actions affect the town as a whole. The problem with the film, however, is it doesn’t seem to have anything to say about the issue it tackles. The cops are all presented in fairly unsympathetic light throughout the film – and no amount of charming Woody Harrelson performances are able to change that; Mildred Hayes has a complete lack of any kind of a character arc – she starts off the film being angry about the police’s lack of progress and ends the film in pretty much the same spot, having learned no lesson and feeling no remorse for any of the events that have occurred throughout the film that are a direct result of her actions; and even goes so far as to try and get the audience to sympathize and forgive the cop that Sam Rockwell plays – a cop who is incompetent, sexist, and so racist that he actually tortured a person of color who was being held in custody. The film goes so far to try and redeem his character but offers no actual reason for the audience to forgive him. He doesn’t feel any remorse, so why are we supposed to suddenly forgive him just because he overheard something at a bar that caused him to actually to the bare minimum requirements of his job as a policeman? He doesn’t even do those bare minimum requirements well! His redemption arc consists of him mediocrely attempting the bare minimum of a decent cop and I’m supposed to root for him now? It just didn’t sit well with me.
Three Billboards isn’t a bad movie. It’s fairly funny at times and features a lot of really good performances from some really talented actors. As much as I want Sally Hawkins to win the Oscar for Best Actress, if she has to lose to anyone, Frances McDormand in this film is a good person to lose to. The directing is mostly competent as well and the pacing moves along at a fairly brisk pace. The problem with the film is the script and the poor storytelling it contains within it. Apparently, Martin McDonagh is an accomplished playwright and screenwriter, but having seen nor read anything else that he’s written, I’m confused by that assessment of his talents. He’s a fine director, sure, but in Three Billboards, he doesn’t seem to have anything to say about what he’s chosen to write about and he puts no effort into giving his characters any kind of arc or development. His script fails on almost every level. The film isn’t bad, but it doesn’t deserve the awards it’s getting. Some of the actors do, but the film itself is nowhere near the best film of 2017.
3 out of 5 wands