Bil’s rating (out of 5): BB. United Kingdom/USA, 2017. Blueprint Pictures. Screenplay by Martin McDonagh. Cinematography by Ben Davis. Produced by Graham Broadbent, Peter Czernin, Martin McDonagh. Music by Carter Burwell. Production Design by Inbal Weinberg. Costume Design by Melissa Toth. Film Editing by Jon Gregory. Academy Awards 2017. Golden Globe Awards 2017. Toronto International Film Festival 2017.
The sleepy little town of Ebbing, Missouri is brought to screaming consciousness when one woman’s frustration over the unsolved rape and murder of her daughter inspires her to do something about what she feels is lax law enforcement: Frances McDormand spends the money to put a message on three billboards near her home that have a not-so-subtle message for the town’s police chief (Woody Harrelson) that question his potency in the job. It turns out the town isn’t quiet but is actually squelching its problems, which also include violent, racist cops, nutty dentists and occasional visits by dangerous drifters, none of whom can scare our heroine away from her mission to discover the culprit behind her daughter’s death. Famed playwright turned filmmaker Martin McDonagh lets plenty of provocative cusswords and politically incorrect phrases fly free and wide in order to, I assume, address American contradictions about its own culture, displaying a town that is far more concerned about the attack on Harrelson’s reputation than the death of a young girl as a way of criticizing the backwards manner in which the country deals with its social issues. It’s clearly a script by a playwright who is writing about America but is not American, drawing his characters with plenty of humour but little affection and providing suspiciously articulate dialogue for people who have been drawn as being inarticulate about their own lives or emotions. McDonagh can’t help but lay all his symbolism on far too thick, the men all cause mayhem while the women are seething with frustrated rage, and when they do make a move they are met with criticism and reprisal (just like on Twitter!). Such preachiness would be fine except for one big problem: it’s a comedy and it’s not particularly funny, its dark humour made unpalatable by a plot corrupted by a bitterness that is only momentarily relieved by joyful expressions of the kind of gruesome violence that McDonagh does so well.