Three Problems

Just call me one irritated critic outside Regina, SK

Film | by Jorge Ignacio Castillo

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
RPL Film Theatre
May 4–6

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri should’ve been my jam. Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), a filmmaker with a knack for crackling dialogue and dark humor, Three Billboards scored seven nominations and two wins (Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor) at the Academy Awards.

And yet, the film feels misshapen and hollow. Let’s break it down:

1. THERE’S NO POINT TO ANY OF IT: The film revolves around Mildred (Frances McDormand), a grieving, irate woman whose daughter has been raped and murdered. The law’s inability to apprehend the perpetrator inspires Mildred to rent the aforementioned billboards and light a fire under the police force. The setup is great, but most of the events that ensue are random and inconsequential, and have nothing to do with solving the crime. There’s a whole subplot with Peter Dinklage that exists just to show how mean she can be. Which we know from minute one.

2. THERE’S NO INSIGHT INTO THE AMERICAN PSYCHE: McDonagh is an astute observer of the human condition but if his intention was to capture the Red State way of life, he comes up short. There’s nothing specific to these generic characters that makes them special: they’re just angry, daft and trigger-happy, a description that could apply to the residents of small, decrepit towns from Florida to Saskatchewan. One could generously venture that Three Billboards is how McDonagh sees Trump’s America, but the movie is too detached to feel applicable.

3. SAM ROCKWELL’S ACTING IS A SHTICK, NOT A PERFORMANCE: As likeable as Sam Rockwell is, his role as the unabashedly bigoted cop Dixon is a tough sell. Not only does he never face a reckoning for his racism (he does, however, for being a dick), he seldom resembles a human being: he is there for the laughs at his expense, some shocking acts of violence, and an undeserved redemption arc. He is a plot device, not a person, no matter how much manic energy Rockwell injects into it. Speaking of coasting on public perception, Frances McDormand has been honing her crusty, easily triggered persona for so long her work here doesn’t feel like a stretch.

You could do worse than Three Billboards, but don’t expect it to rock your world.