Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri

Checked out the new drama / dark comedy Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri. This is a bleak, angry, darkly comedic film written and directed by the guy who made the excellent In Bruges and the pretty good Seven Psychopaths.
Frances McDormand plays a blunt force of nature of a woman who goes to war against the local cops who she thinks have not thoroughly investigated the rape and murder of a her daughter. She puts up the billboards to ask why nobody has been arrested, she goes to blows with the locals, and generally abuses verbally (and physically) anyone who suggests she’s going too far. It’s a very impressively blunt performance that doesn’t ask you to like her, though it may ask you to admire her tenacity.
And that’s the angle the movie takes. Nobody in the film is all good or all bad. Woody Harrelson plays the chief of police who has more nuance and character than you initially think. In fact, his frustrated relationship with McDormand is believable and honest… they don’t like what the other has done, but they do seem to respect each other as people. This is excellent writing and acting.
Another fine example is the deputy played by Sam Rockwell… a man who is mainly known as the guy who tortured a black guy in a prison cell years earlier. He’s dumb, angry, and ignorant yet manages to not be a complete shitheel. Maybe he should be, but the movie is not interested in black and white characterizations.
The general quality of the writing and dialog is high. This is definitely an indie film that has no interest in cliches or catering to expectations. Whether we get a resolution to the murder of the daughter or not isn’t as interesting to the film as exploring these characters, their motivations, their doubts, and their guilts. It’s very interesting to have a film that has nominal good guys who do and say bad things.
It’s also a very R rated film. The number of – and the quality use of – four letter words is impressive. There’s also blunt use of racist words that manages to be funny while being awful. It’s possible to be offended by what they say but amused at the angle and approach the dialog takes. Hard to explain without spoilers (and say racist things in a review).
This is a very good, darkly funny, complicated film for people who want a bit of a challenge in their storytelling. I recommend it with some reservations. Mainly if you aren’t interested in slower indie films that don’t necessarily give square solutions to complex situations. If you don’t mind a challenge and want to laugh at grimly funny scenes, it’s worth watching.
Score: 84

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