This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
dogunderwater’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
So, like, the reviews right out the gate were blown away by this tour de force, and then the reviews were like, hey maybe this film is really racist?? I tend to err on the side of 'this is a shallow examination of violence that props up the systems it purports to indict' buuut I figured I owed it to myself as someone who writes a lot of movie reviews to see it and get an honest take on it.
Well, it turns out I don't even think this is a particularly well-made film. The writing is bad, y'all. Martin McDonagh has no idea how Americans use curse words, for one thing, or how conversations work, or anything (yeah I know he's a playwright etc. but in this film it is not clear). I think he was going to a rustic, naturalistic dialogue -- fast but not stylized. But his dialogue falls flat and weird so often that it's grating and really hurts his leads. I wasn't blown away by any of the leads' performances -- Lucas Hedges (Robbie) and Caleb Landry Jones (Red) had the most depth to them, but everyone else's character was so incomprehensible that I felt like almost no amount of ~acting could really bring it out of the mire of bad writing.
Who are these people? Why do they behave this way? We don't know anything except that god they're all assholes. Even Woody Harrelson's ostensible good guy sheriff in a tough place makes no sense to me (not to mention his wife who is TWENTY ONE YEARS younger than him and also Australian, what is she even doing there). He's been working with Sam Rockwell's Dixon for THREE YEARS? and he's willing to overlook him being constantly drunk, obscene, awful, and not to mention racist, homophobic, and violent? also he's an idiot! Why do we care about Dixon? Why does the script? Why does this movie! He's not gonna be a good cop!!!!!
Frances McDormand's Mildred is hard to like but the script keeps trying to get us there, to convince us that she has layers, giving us weird scenes of her talking to a deer or making her own bunny slippers talk. But her character is a bad mom and tonally completely inconsistent. Yeah, I guess the movie wants me to think there's something incredibly ~complex~ in her relationship with her abusive ex-husband but mostly it makes her seem poorly characterized. Oh she's got a steely gaze and an unbendable spine...except when her ex violently assaults her in her own home in front of her son! Then it's all hand-holding and watery eyes and hints of their past love -- because this movie desperately wants me to think abusers can change, that her still violent ex will treat his 19 year old girlfriend differently.
The movie does not convince me that will be the case.
Which uh brings me to gender. Frances McDormand isn't sexless, per se, but she's pit against Abbie Cornish who is pretty much only there to be sexy and then sad. They're the only women who aren't total bimbos. The new girlfriend is a doe-eyed idiot, who has bookmarks with inspirational quotes on them but is too stupid to know the difference between polo and polio (even though she read a whole book on one??). Pamela, Red's coworker in the advertising business, is a bubbly idiot who can't read the room and exists really to just get brutally punched in the face. Denise is Frances' black best friend (which, girl, why are you dropping anti-black slurs to make a point if your only friend in the world is a black woman who gives you a job) who I guess owns the store she works in, and is...too dumb to not talk about shit in front of cops and too shallow of a character to be righteously pissed at being harassed by the cops and arrested for no reason. She at least gets a love interest.....Jerome, a black guy who wants to help Frances for some reason we never really know. He also has a completely inexplicable interaction with the police, where he recognizes Dixon because he violently assaulted another black man who was in police custody and that made the news. Of course, knowing this, Jerome proceeds to antagonize the shit out of Dixon because that's exactly what a black guy would do when he's alone in a field faced with a violently racist cop. He and Denise seem to exist only to help shore up the representation in a film that's ostensibly about race and policing but doesn't seem to know much about either of them and has nothing smart to say about either.
Also this movie is like, grossly ableist? Peter Dinklange is almost a love interest for Mildred, but she (and everyone else except Red, I guess) treats him like shit. He gets in a good line and manages to be the only nice person in Ebbing, but his pain is just there to make Mildred feel bad, I guess? To help her realize she's a stone cold bitch? Who fucking knows. He's also styled like it should be a joke that he has romantic feelings for her (let him have better hair than this!), even though the point is that she's the bad one, the movie is still smirking at the idea of anyone dating a little person. Fuck off.
I hated the music, the long empty scenes without music, the rhythm of the dialogue, the pacing, the nonsensical character beats, and how up it's own ass this film is. Every scene thinks it's telling you a deep truth about the ugliness of human nature, but no one really acts like a human and even the characters the film thinks you should like are garbage, underscored by their casual racism/homophobia/ableism. Like yeah, fuck rapists! But this movie isn't really even about that either. It's just about some shit people with bad coping mechanisms who are about to go and make some bad fucking decisions, in perpetuity -- only now they're more noble? I guess?
Anyway I viscerally hated this for a lot of reasons. I don't care if you want to make a movie telling me people are either fundamentally fucked, or even if it's about how abusive people can maybe change or rechannel those impulses to do good -- don't do it like this.