Landing closer to Coens country, Three Billboards is more of a slow-roasting tragicomedy about grief and culpability, with higher stakes, a lower gag count, and emphasis on the tragic. But McDonagh still lives for detours and digressions, for the opportunity to stall the plot and humorously slow play a conversation.
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Not only is Three Billboards Outside of Ebbing, Missouri the director’s most accomplished film yet, it’s also his most compassionate.
It’s full of sharp dialogue and entertaining characters and fuelled by a wryly enlightened view of our world and how it can be at once cruel and caring. For a story built on such dark foundations, it’s weirdly reassuring. It’s also enormous fun.
While the film continues almost throughout to generate great whoops of shocking laughter, it's the notes of genuine sorrow, compassion and contrition that resonate.
Anchored by a funny, foul-mouthed performance from McDormand, McDonagh’s daringly-structured dark comedy is rich and layered and often laugh-out-loud funny but trips over constant tonal shifts.
What immediately comes to the forefront is that McDonagh has choreographed an almost impossible feat of a brutally dark comedy that, thanks to both Rockwell and McDormand, elicits an emotional response you simply don’t see coming.
Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is a multi-layered piece with such swathes of great dialogue that it will no doubt reward - if not demand - multiple viewings. It's also another item of evidence pointing toward a filmmaker getting into his stride.
It’s far from a masterpiece, yet it holds you, it adds up, and it’s something to see.
It all makes for soaringly satisfying viewing, yet the satisfaction comes from blistering performances and virtuosic screenwriting, and absolutely nothing else.
Those familiar with McDonagh’s work will be unsurprised to learn that Three Billboards is a bold and showboating affair, robustly drawn and richly written; a violent carnival of small-town American life. Yet it has a big, beating heart, even a rough-edged compassion for its brawling inhabitants.