In Martin McDonagh’s latest film Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri (2017), Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand) strives to combat the kind of exhaustion that comes from dealing with her daughter’s horrifying death. As a conduit through which to reflect on the social woes of life beneath the neon lights of grounded Americana, the character’s use of the billboards the film’s title points at is a pertinent one, very much at the center of a comment on American anger, and with the strength to provide a substantial purpose to the over-plotted narrative. The various missteps that lead to the overall non-conclusive mood of the film however, muddle the relationship with its audience, invalidating the chances for connection between the two.
Along with the banter – mostly cringy -, and the appearance of a regrettable CGI deer, McDonagh’s initial focus on a female story of valiancy already falls short. This is a world we step into and leave recalling how non-credible it is. The bond felt between the viewer and the protagonist’s charisma expresses the leanness of it better than any other factor. We are captivated by McDormand’s performance, not her character’s plight. Also, in its attempt at poking at some truthful notions, police brutality in the Midwest for one, it never achieves the pathos that could have otherwise confronted them. It then comes as no surprise why the powerhouse actress ends up carrying the filmmaker’s flirtation with oddball Coen Brothers’ character work. How unfortunate that the overwhelming lack of an attuned ear to the rhythms of speech and music, wit and heart, further flat-lined by a keen self-importance, manages to stain her efforts, pigeonholing the film as forgettable fluff.