Saturday, January 20, 2018

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri (Martin McDonagh, 2017)

I rather came away here with the impression of a cast outclassing their script. Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri certainly contains a host of very fine performances, is indubitably engaging and often very funny, but it also suffers from the kind of "neatness" that plagues a certain style of playwriting. The film thinks that it is – among other things – a fairly serious look at certain phenomena, chiefly rape, murder, racism and the police responses (and of course contributions) to them. For maybe its first third I thought that the most interesting aspect of it was not the issues it confronts explicitly, but rather its examination of the nature and consequences of political action, considered in the broadest sense. The specific political action in question involves the messages that Frances McDormand's character, Mildred Hayes, puts up on the eponymous billboards, demanding – this is a spoiler, but only of about the first five minutes of the film – why the police have made no progress in solving her daughter's rape and murder. The responses she receives of "we're all with you, but we don't want you to actually do anything about your situation" have all sorts of resonances. But for the film to really explore the political in this sense it would have had to sustain the kind of general credibility maintained by something like Manchester By The Sea, whose Lucas Hedges also crops up here as McDormand's son; it would also certainly have had to include some fleshed-out black characters, which it almost resolutely refuses to do. Instead, although it ends on what I found to be a pleasingly ambiguous note, the film descends into a series of increasingly contrived set-pieces which undermine its claim to any genuine seriousness, political or of any other kind – and this even before we get to the question of the redemption that Sam Rockwell's character seems to be allowed (something which has become, I think rightly, controversial).

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