Watched: 14 January

Most people I know (or whose opinions or reviews about films I read or hear) seem to like this awards season contender from Martin McDonagh, though there have been a fair few dissenting voices too, and those are the ones I’ve tended to agree with, partly because I too have found this film’s tonal inconsistencies a bit annoying; the other main reason, and I guess this is related to the first point, is that I have a nagging suspicion that the director and writer – whose first film In Bruges I chuckled at and whose second film Seven Psychopaths rapidly disappeared up its own arse – doesn’t particularly care all that much about any of the ‘serious’ events or issues that are included within his story, or the characters who are directly affected by them, from the (unseen) rape and murder of a young woman to institutional Midwestern racism, the onset of cancer and the experience of grief. He is clearly much more at home directing Sam Rockwell’s dumb racist cop – here presented as a skewed kind of comic light relief before unexpectedly and disappointingly becoming the nearest thing Ebbing has to a hero – as he yuck-yucks and explodes with rage, or shoehorning Peter Dinklage’s local barfly into the screenplay. This character is basically only present in the story so that McDonagh can insert a variety of unfunny lines about his height.

Some people seem to lap up this filmmaker’s way with words, but I can’t really see that there’s all that much beyond the profane insults and sudden bursts of violence; in fact this film seems to me to be a rank amateur’s attempt at making a Coen-esque movie, but without the wit or élan that those brothers exhibit so regularly, particularly when they’re focusing on similar geographical areas and types of characters. Perhaps I missed something fundamental and need to watch it again, but I was a tad surprised at the critical love-in and the fact that Three Billboards picked up some very notable awards. (I have no problem with anything handed out to Frances McDormand, though – she’s very good as a grieving mother who hires the titular three billboards to put pressure on the local police force regarding an unsolved, year-old case, but I think her work deserves to be in a better film.) (**½)