One thing is for sure. If you ever decide to go into the advertising billboard business don't plan on using Ebbing, Missouri as your launch pad. They make would-be advertisers use giant sized billboards on back roads where no one will see them and where eventually they will fall into disrepair. This is where Mildred, (Frances McDormand) comes in. A curmudgeonly and waspish woman, who is seeking action from the local police in finding her missing daughter and, we must assume, her daughter's eventual killer. Mildred decides to rent the billboards to grab police attention and advertise in oversized black text the lack of police commitment.
The numerous preposterous situations in this film can be attributed to a lethal combination of a writer who feels ill at ease with story telling and then fatally treats his words as holy writ. He should have had a strong director with him to flag up the flimsy logic and horrid clichés. A director who wouldn't let him get away with it. Unfortunately, when the two of them got together, their admiration for each other's work was so intense and resilient, they just couldn't bring themselves to openly question the other's thought process. But they must have both had their suspicions about each other because tanker loads of midnight oil have been burnt beavering away on adding bits to get the plot to catch up and explain itself.
Sadly, this film lacks that thread of logic that must exist for an audience to truly believe in the plot. Logic should be the cornerstone. Give an audience a logical story and they will follow. Toy Story, Superman, etc. all fantasy, but all fiercely logical.
In any event, both the writer and the director finally gave up on logic and relied instead on three huge, sleight of hand performances to cover any inconvenient truths.
For a start it has no sense of location. There are few stores in this town. There are no grocery stores or McDonalds or anything - or if there are we don't get to see them. We just don't know where we are - or even in what time zone. But hang on, I'm forgetting that's not necessary because it's in the title. It's Ebbing, Missouri. And it's about Three Billboards. And they're outside town.
Now, just like the lack of stores in Ebbing, the townsfolk are sparse and a weird bunch too. There aren't that many of them but all have presumably been extras in Westerns for most of their lives and as a result stand around on Main Street watching meekly as one of Ebbing's finest, a twerpy, semi-literate cop (Sam Rockwell) inflicts violence on the aforementioned, mild mannered citizens. But no one notices. No one complains. It's as though a part of this town has been set aside to allow a manic theatre troupe to indulge in a sub-culture of idiocy of truly Truman Show proportions.
There's the obligatory drunk police chief - no wait a minute, that's Sam Rockwell, he's the drunk but he's not the chief. The police chief is Woody Harrelson and he has a terminal illness but other than that, only the scantest of other clues to his character.
We know he is married to a young Australian girl (Abbie Cornish). Who says Hollywood can no longer contemplate a ludicrous age gap? But the Cornish character was presumably on a doomed domestic flight from Sydney to somewhere when she found herself stranded in the twilight zone that is Ebbing.
Harrelson and Cornish have two children who are cute and play a curious fishing game by themselves on the edge of a lake. This allows their parents to treat themselves to some off screen hanky-panky and because of this, their children's safety is rather secondary. Harrelson's quiet performance, in a wonderful white shirt, has echoes of Jeff Bridges in 'Hell or High Water'. Although that's where the comparison ends. He really exists only in the mind of the director or writer, or both of them, to compose three hand written letters that will get our director or the writer off a troublesome hook and make everything right for everybody.
Then, finally there's Frances McDormand as Mildred , our Three Bill Boards girl. Now, anyone who has seen Ms. McDormand in previous productions will have fond memories of Fargo and Blood Simple and Olive Kitteridge and so on. But, and let's be clear about this, Frances McDormand could waltz through this sort of script while asleep. On a stretcher. In the dark. A ground breaking performance it is not. It's as though she planned to try something else but, and Pavlov was right on this, as soon as an actor sees a red light and hears a bell many of them just can't help but deliver their stock performance.
In McDormand's case it's from her Sour and Harsh canon and regrettably she will not develop beyond this now as an actress.
So what does all this strange little film add up to? Probably, just like La La Land, it proves you can fool all of the people some of the time - even an Oscar jury.
My memory of Three Billboards will be the indulgent script and lack of editing and Sam Rockwell's strange haircut and Frances McDormand's relentless bandana and strange haircut and Clarke Peters flashing his cop's badge a little too early - so when an elderly 'Sidney Poitier' shows up in town our surprise is muted.
Oddly, and this is a clue to how a film can mask the insubstantial talent of the writer and director, the minor roles here only serve to amplify the massive theatricality of the principal performances and the production as a whole.
And so it will fade away and get an Oscar for something and the game can go on.