Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ★★★½

This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.

This review may contain spoilers.


Not an obvious comparison, nor one I've seen made elsewhere, but this is basically McDonagh's equivalent of Mamet's Homicide: a playwright's third feature, applying his aggressively idiosyncratic dialogue and sensibility to an issue-driven story set in a closer approximation of the real world. McDonagh falters more than Mamet did making the transition, in part because he's overly enamored of cheap shock effects; a lot of the profanity here feels obnoxiously gratuitous (Harrelson's two young daughters seem to exist solely so that he can curse in front of them), and I don't believe for a second that the new sheriff would watch one of his deputies throw an innocent man out of a second-story window—an act that could reasonably be construed as attempted murder—and respond only by firing him, with no charges filed. The dentist scene, too. Just a lotta posturing horseshit, which I minded less when the context was more frivolous and stylized. But McDonagh's plentiful storytelling gifts are still very much in evidence, and there were moments here that caught me off guard, e.g. McDormand instantly flipping from hostile to maternal when Harrelson unexpectedly spits blood in her face. (I can't think about her saying "I know, baby" without tearing up—there I go again.) And the final scene won me over by functioning neither as an endorsement of vigilante justice (as I briefly feared) nor as an implausible about-face. It's the narrative version of "When you talk about destruction / Don't you know that you can count me out, in."