Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

This film is an odd duck. Funny but not really, unpredictable but not really, insightful but not really, this is the story of a small-town woman (Frances McDormand, fine as always, but not doing anything outside her wheelhouse) who rents the titular billboards to humiliate the local police chief (Woody Harrelson, fine as always, but not doing anything outside his wheelhouse) into investigating the rape and murder of her teenage daughter.

Early in the film, Harrelson calmly explains to McDormand that the case had been closed because there were no DNA matches from the crime scene. McDormand's response, delivered without sarcasm: "Pull blood from every man in the country." Her response sums up her character, and the film: her righteous anger, in the face of a hopeless situation, has made her irrational. This sentiment, in fact, pervades this dead-end town, especially in regards to the idiot deputy (Sam Rockwell, fine as always, etc.), a drunken, casually racist loser who lives with his mom and whose vulnerability – Rockwell is never not vulnerable, even when playing the heel – suggests inevitable redemption.

I liked Three Billboards, but I'm not crazy about it. I found the dialogue a shade too writerly; the performances a shade too actorly. It feels more like a Hollywood movie than it should, though McDonagh's storytelling is certainly idiosyncratic. It's only near the end of the film, however, that he makes his point, and it isn't anything groundbreaking. Three Billboards tries to plumb deeper emotional depths than McDonagh's cult favorite In Bruges, but In Bruges remains the more affecting work perhaps because it doesn't try as hard.

I have no doubt that many will adore Three Billboards, and I won't deny them their adoration. It's just that the film didn't fully win me over.