Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an accurate title. It’s also pretentious in its literalness. The film is Sting-lookalike and writer/director Martin McDonagh’s follow-up to the exceptional In Bruges and the frustrating Seven Psychopaths.
Three Billboards is an awards favorite. It’s close to being as great as advertised at several moments, but it never reaches the summit, and, sometimes, when it misses the mark it misses badly. It is not nearly as funny as it thinks it is. In fact, the actual funny moments can be counted on one hand. Neither does the Englishman McDonagh have the understanding of middle-America that he supposes. A movie can lack verisimilitude. That is fine. Many good ones do. But it cannot be deficient of the essence of the close reality it is attempting to parody or satirize.
The acting is generally good, but most of the characters lack nuance. Best Actress favorite Frances McDormand is really one-note for most of the film. She holds down that “bad bitch” tone on the horn for far too long to achieve any real empathy. The jumpsuit and shaved hair?—Ick! Woody Harrelson as the town sheriff is mostly wasted. Abbie Cornish is totally out-of-place. John Hawkes is unexploited. Peter Dinklage is criminally misused, and is essentially just a plot-device. Sam Rockwell as the lush cop Dixon is the only one truly worthy of his awards consideration. His character gets the most to do and gets the growth.
While the writing can be sharp, the direction can be effective, and the soundtrack is interesting in its repetition, Three Billboards does not earn its self-satisfaction, nor its strive for ambiguity: moral or narrative.