Matthew Lickona 9:21 a.m., Sept. 29
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Writer-director-producer Martin McDonagh (Seven Psychopaths) presents the story of a heartbroken but otherwise rarin’ to go woman (Frances McDormand, billy-club blunt) who plasters the titular roadside ads with a direct question to the local police chief: why haven’t you caught the guy who raped and killed my daughter? She’s gotta do something to stave off the feeling that “there ain’t no God and the world’s empty and it doesn’t matter what we do to each other,” and the billboards are close at hand. It doesn’t matter that the chief (Woody Harrelson, laconic) is a good man who is dealing with cancer, or that a violent man-child cop (Sam Rockwell, alarming) is out to stop her. She’s suffered to the point where suffering holds no more terror for her. Yessir, shit gets real. Or does it? For starters, McDonagh works way too hard to inject nearly every scene with his patented solution of acid wit and dark-roast comedy: go ahead, laugh in the face of horror, I dare you. It’s jarringly effective until it starts to feel like shtick, at which point it works only as a numbing agent. For another, his fondness for the outlandish and over-the-top doesn’t mesh well with his effort to tease out the ordinary humanity in his creations. And finally, there’s a serious over-reliance on coincidence and underportrayal of consequence. Good acting, though. 2017.
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