I saw Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri last night and I would compare my feelings about it to my feelings after seeing Forrest Gump. I left the film with a few reservations that have now grown into full blown contempt and disgust, especially for the writer and director Martin McDonagh. He made In Bruges, which I liked and Seven Psychopaths, which I didn't like as much.
This movie I flat out hate.
I have no complaints with the actors, I rarely do. It's what the writer/director does with the actors that made me so angry. Let me break down my complaints into categories.
The movie is being sold as a comedy, but it is horribly violent in personal and explicit ways. A lot of entertainment I like has both comedy and drama elements, but the violence done in this film is hard to watch multiple times and we are still supposed to care about the people who do this violence. The alleged redemption scenes rang completely false. Also, this is a movie where cops are main characters and several major crimes are committed with obvious suspects and no one is ever arrested.
For men, adolescence ends at about fifty. For women, fifty is the age when they should be sent out on ice floes. There are three romantic relationships shown, the sheriff and his wife, Frances McDormand's ex and his 19 year old girlfriend and the guy who sells billboard advertising and his office manager. Only the last one is age appropriate.
Actors are in general attractive people, usually somewhere between good looking and glamorous. Woody Harrelson and John Hawkes are good looking men in their late fifties. They are paired with glamorous actresses, Harrelson with Abbe Cornish, twenty one years his junior, and Hawkes with Samara Weaving, thirty four years younger than he is. The script actually notes how young Weaving's character is. She is supposed to be 19, the actress is a very pretty 25 year old and played a younger women well, with a mixture of innocence and uncertainty. But the obvious age discrepancy between Harrelson and Cornish isn't even worth mentioning. I know Hollywood has been doing this shit since Dorothy and Lillian Gish were ingenues, but it's bothered me for a long time, especially when the guys aren't glamorous and the women are, like Milton Berle married to Dorothy Provine in It's a Mad, Mad... World. Again, this isn't Harrelson's fault, the fault belongs to the writer-director McDonagh.
Even the men who aren't shown in romantic relationships act like they are much younger than the actors portraying them. Sam Rockwell is about fifty, but his drunk, violent, clumsy, dim-witted mama's boy cop character acts like he hasn't turned twenty five yet, and Peter Dinklage is given a demeaning and undemanding role as a car salesman hoping to get in a romantic relationship with Frances McDormand. To the movie's credit, he does get one scene where he notes that while she is dismissing him without a thought, she is the one who is the town pariah and he has an actual job.
The two female roles performed by women over fifty are Frances McDormand, the true star of the film, and Sandy Martin as the mother of Sam Rockwell's idiot character. With the exception of Dinklage's romantic interest in McDormand, they are treated as objects that would be best hidden from view.
Black people are props. There is one role that is an exception to this rule, Clarke Peters, best known as Lester Freamon in The Wire, plays the new sheriff about halfway between the film. Every other black actor plays a character just barely a plot device.
The transformation of Woody Harrelson's character. Harrelson's character is written as a nasty, foul-mouthed, horny, violent man for his first several scenes, but late in the film is turned into a saint with the wisdom of Solomon and the compassion of Gandhi. It's not his fault I didn't buy it. The writing sucks.
This is one of those movies so bad that it makes me re-think the rest of the director's earlier works. I actually accepted Brendan Gleeson's In Bruges performance as a fifty-something hitman turned wise aesthetic. I now wonder if I wasn't just charmed by the beautiful scenery.
The physics of fire is completely wrong in multiple scenes. This is me nitpicking, I admit this, but the movie had done such a poor job of drawing me in that by the time these scenes came around, I was already in "fuck this shit" mode.
In conclusion, as you might imagine, I do not recommend this film in any way, despite a stellar cast. More than just the good actors wasted, the music is by Carter Burwell, who has been involved in a lot of movies I love. I place all blame on the writer and director Martin McDonagh. I had high hopes for this film when I saw the trailer and all those hopes were dashed.