Just saw an advanced screening of this at Odeon as part of their Screen Unseen thing.
Tonally hyperactive. As black as they come and it’s certainly a comedy, though it’s also a proper contemporary western. Frances McDormand and (especially) Sam Rockwell send it bumping along at a swashbuckling pace, the former a vengeful bereaved mother and the latter a repentant thug in blue. There’s a dance of sympathies and secondary characters around the central trauma – the rape and murder of her young daughter – and its aftermath in a small southern town. Her actions, especially the ingeniously inverted Scarlet Letterish scheme of hiring the billboards to advertise the police’s failure to apprehend the perpetrator, inflame the townsfolk like a thorn in the side and tease apart their allegiances to the fetid, authoritarian status quo.
The idea lingers in the first half as a really intriguing context for a somewhat thrashy and inconsistent drama. By the time the second half starts, when the two main character arcs have pivoted and are heading back towards each other, the Christian themes begin to assert themselves at the expense of the political righteousness. Like the uncomfortable feeling of being led by the nose at the end of The Salesman but for over an hour. The jokes fall flat a little too often (despite some great delivery) and a little too often this is because the gap between the satirised attitudes and the object of these attitudes flickers and seems to close. Plenty of midget jokes (the race war scene in In Bruges becomes increasingly telling); a whole ton of jokes at the expense of stupid white trash southerners; too much sympathy expended on racist cops. As far as I could tell, the ending puts our protagonists on a level pegging and no-one is the better for it. The net result of this wending and wayward marauding is that you’re never really allowed to settle in to a story which should really hit you directly in the chest.
Points, though, for those leads, especially SR whose show-stopping turn hinges on a brutal and beautifully choreographed long take.
Martin McDonagh continues to cement his status as the second best McDonagh.