"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" is NOT all that. It has the feel of a Coen Brothers' dark comedy (and not just because Frances McDormand is in it). The writer-director is Martin McDonagh, known for "In Bruges" and "Seven Psychopaths," both filled with sudden, pop, surprising, vicious violence that's supposed to be funny in its casualness. "Three Billboards" is no exception.
At film school we learned that "in a comedy, nobody really gets hurt." Perhaps that's why so many comedies today are "dark." The rule doesn't apply.
McDormand plays Mildred, a divorced mother of two teens, a boy and a girl. The girl was brutally murdered and Mildred's anger at local law enforcement dragging their feet in finding who's responsible has reached a boiling point. She pays for a message spaced out on three billboards to demand WHY?--naming the popular Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) on one of them. The whole town is incensed and Mildred becomes very unpopular. She's a self-righteous vigilante with a heart of gold who can point out everyone else's sins, but just when she's becoming dull and one-dimensional...oooh...we get to see her flaws.
Ebbing is a hick town with inept, backward, uber-politically-incorrect police who play fast and loose with the law, in particular, Officer Dixon (an unhinged Sam Rockwell). Obnoxious conversations are par for the course, and be prepared for crudeness and shock-value-everything. McDormand does her usual deadpan McDormand tough chick schtick, this time as a woman with nothing to lose.
An interesting comment is slipped in the middle: "There's no God, so it doesn't matter what we do to each other? I hope not."
A beautiful-philosophical, warm-fuzzy, funny suicide note is left by a character that feels like it's meant to get us to (smilingly) agree that suicide was the right decision here.
The plot is watchable, clever, amusing and twisty until the very end when it kinda falls apart. A different kind of ending. Not untidy, but unlikely, a bit meh.
Methinks there's just too much material out there. A glut. When cable came 'round, the saying was: "100 channels and nothing's on," meaning nothing good to watch. Now we have the internet, Netflix, YouTube, Amazon, Hulu, etc., all doing their own original programming. They've got to grab our attention somehow, right? Oh, and torture is hysterical, right? ("Three Billboards" doesn't have torture, but just about every other "mature" show does now, doesn't it? Graphic, horrible torture that doesn't look away. And there are no warnings, you just start watching something and voila--you don't have to wait long.)
"Three Billboards" is more minor Hollywood desensitizing dissolution. Eminently forgettable.
--A swipe is taken at a priest for clergy sex abuse. In a sense, it's a well-deserved observation, not just some easy, crass wisecrack.
--"I didn't come into the world alone, my mom was there."
--Great young actor, Caleb Jones.
--Could also have been named: "Three Billboards and Two Angry People."