At the Movies: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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Gentle Reader, I am now going to save you some money.

I watched Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri with great expectations, primarily because I had read some of Martin McDonagh’s plays and found them very funny. Unfortunately, what works in one culture may not translate to another, or possibly Mr. McDonagh’s judgment was simply way off this time, something that happens to all artists, but he needs to go back to his Irish roots, because he missed the mark here by a long chalk.

Welcome to Ebbing, Missouri. Where the highest IQ in town is below room temperature. Where every single person in town is a cardboard stereotype of a kind that was boringly unrealistic before the passage of the Civil Rights Bill. Where the height of humorous repartee is children calling their mothers “cunts.” Where no one—not a single character, regardless of age or profession—is capable of saying a ten-word sentence without five of the words being some variation of the word “fuck,” as either noun, verb, adverb, adjective, preposition, or conjunction. Where the chief of police talks to his five- and six-year-old daughters in a steady stream of crude profanity, not in anger, but to express affection. Where the most rudimentary concepts of the law and law enforcement are—apparently—unknown. Where a cop can commit a murderous assault against an innocent man in the middle of the day as most of the town—including the new police chief—watch, and then only get fired for his brutality. Where ridiculing a dwarf—the only character in the movie with any real humanity—is considered a source of amusement. Where the Special Forces who risk their lives for us are portrayed as rapists and sadists who enjoy terrorizing and psychologically torturing women they don’t know. And where the denouement, the epiphany, the god-like revelation of the central character, consists of her deciding she doesn’t really want to murder an innocent man she doesn’t know and has no reason to kill. Oh, breathless humanity!

Writer and director Martin McDonagh must have thought all the episodes he watched of The Dukes of Hazard were actually documentaries. He has certainly never been to Missouri or any other deplorable-packed part of fly-over country, and he revels in his contempt for the barely sentient toothless morons who inhabit that wasteland. Beyond that, he seems to think that the average movie-goer is far too stupid to be aware of such meaningless incidentals as Constitutional rights, legal rights, civil rights, or even right of way.

With the exception of a handful of movies made for brain-dead prepubescent boys that I had the misfortune to watch years ago, this is the stupidest movie I’ve ever seen. The only reason I didn’t walk out of the theater is because I watched it on Direct TV in my living room, and when the final credits ran, Darleen and I looked at each other and wondered what the hell we had wasted six dollars and two hours for.

The performances are all perfectly good, not Oscar-worthy, but good (and yes, I know who won what), but the greatest performances in the world can’t change chicken shit into chicken salad (to use a phrase that would have been eloquent in this dreadful movie) and when the script insults my willing suspension of disbelief consistently, from soup to nuts, no performance is worth the pain. I know it was intended to be a dark comedy, but even comedy has to be grounded in some kind of reality, and besides, I don’t think mindless violence and mindless profanity are all that chuckle-worthy. Beyond that, the grief of a mother whose teenaged daughter has been raped and murdered makes a poor springboard for hearty laughter.

On IMDB, the first quote of Martin McDonagh’s that caught my eye was: “Well, we’re all cruel, aren’t we?” And the greatest cruelty of all was his making this movie. The state of Missouri should sue for defamation.

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24 thoughts on “At the Movies: Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri”

  1. Just from what you said about this movie, I agree with you and Darleen 100%!! It not worth watching. I wouldn’t even watch it for free! What was he thinking when he made that movie?

    Like my Mom always said it takes all kinds to make the world go around.

    Love to both of you and your whole family!! God bless!!!

    Bonnie L. Whitlatch

  2. That is most unfortunate. With all the resources we have, he should have done a better job. I hope this doesn’t hurt Missouri too bad.
    Best wishes,

    1. I have not seen this movie yet, but if I may submit a viewing suggestions for your consideration. It comes to mind after reading your brief discussion regarding the profanity in the movie, and the seemingly over-the-top actions of the characters.

      I went to the theater a few months ago and purchased a ticket to see The Florida Project. I did not know at the time what I was getting into, and if I had, I honestly would not have seen it. Not because it was bad; it was too good. The movie depicts various desperate individuals who use various profane expressions throughout each spoken sentence, including the six-year-olds. But these are the people who come through the door on a regular basis when you work with or for Child Protective Services. Some viewers – through gracious living, some form of privilege, or both – have been fortunate enough to avoid the circumstances that the protagonist finds herself in and therefore may doubt that people such as these actually exist, that the character must be a caricature. Those with delicate sensibilities believe these characters could not possibly be this offencive. I assure you that they are very real, and there is no exaggeration whatsoever in this film. It is staggeringly, painfully accurate. I might be interested in watching Three Billboards just for comparison.

      1. You’ve touched on one of the reasons why I disliked the movie so much. I have spent a lot of time in Missouri and I have friends there from all walks of life. None of them speak in mindless profanities. Some of them are well educated, some are not, but they have enough intelligence and enough basic respect for their fellow man to preclude that kind of ugliness. The people you dealt with in Child Protective Services clearly did not have those advantages, but none of the characters in “Three Billboards” were in the Child Protective Services category. They probably should have been, especially the adults, but it is supposed to be a movie about middle-class, small business, everyday people in a small town, and they are a lot better than portrayed by Mr. McDonagh.

        1. My husband spend time going to a University in Missouri. He didn’t find it anything like the movie. He is also from a very small town. I have heard more people use more bad language in Los Angeles than Midwest. MelissaSD

  3. Jameson,

    Please tell us how you really feel. LOL!

    I recently re-watched the first couple episodes of Simon & Simon (S1-E1, S1-E2). You look most dashing in that dark blue suit… Until the running scenes that is.

    What’s up with the bright red lining?

    Take care & please keep up the good work.

    1. I suspect that was whatever the wardrobe people picked out for the charater. As I recall JP had longer hair in the earlier seasons (not that his hair was ever as short as Mackie’s). I’ve always wondered if that was his personal preference or was what they wanted for the character.

      1. I don’t know who decided on the hairstyles but I know Jameson was definitely handsome then and still is!

        1. I am now on Season 6. I just finished watching, “The Case of Don Diablo.” Your wife is in this
          Episode. Still enjoying the series. It hasn’t lost the flow. To think, when I was 14, I could have rode my bike to where you filming. I lived really close to College of the Canyons. You filmed the Dick Butkus football esposide there. MelissaSD

        2. …ja, die Serie Simon & Simon war richtig toll und es macht immernoch Spaß es sich anzuschauen….. Manuela

          1. I think the most dangerous wardrobe you wore was that fishing lure hat,with all the lures on it. Were you worried that you were going get hooked in eye? Were those your lures? One frog on that vest was paw paw and worth $40.

          2. JP….Sie waren einer der besten und facettenreichsten Schauspielkünstler…. manchmal habe ich die Charaktere gemocht, die Sie gespielt haben (wie z.B. in “Simon & Simon) und manchmal habe ich den Charakter, den Sie gespielt haben auch richtig gehasst (wie z.B. im Film “Dead before Dawn ” ) ….Gott schütze Sie….. Manuela

        3. Well speaking as a guy I can only say there was also plenty of pretty ladies on the series (wrote the hair comment above). But I won’t disagree that JP is a handsome fellow.

      2. As an aside (I wrote the above hair comment) that in the early 80’s I had shoulder length hairl. Long blonde locks and I lived in southern CA and fancied myself a surfer dude. Though I did a little surfing I ended up spending more time on the beaches looking at the girls. Today my hair is like Mackie’s so I long ago gave up the longer hair…

  4. Danke JP, für diese Rezession, leider gibt man immer wieder für Müll u.a. im Fernsehen Geld aus und ärgert sich hinterher über die verschwendete (Lebens-)Zeit …so traurig es ist, gibt es aber in der heutigen Zeit wirklich Menschen die in einer Art “Gossensprache” sprechen (siehe in Ihrem Blog “60 Minutes Concealed Carry Segment” dieser aggressive anonyme “Beschimpfer” mit vermutlich wenig Hirn und Verstand)…..viele Grüße Manuela

    1. I don’t think so. Mr. McDonagh was born in London to Irish parents and has lived most of his life in England, so I doubt he has the kind of contempt for American working- and middle-class people that some of our own, domestic elites do. I could be wrong, of course, but I think that because his plays make use of the same kind of violence and profanity and characters who make bad choices. The difference is that plays, by definition of being performed live in front of an audience, have a theatricality to them that a movie cannot–or should not–have, and one of my many objections to this movie was that it was over the top theatrically.

      1. Perhaps, but if you ever listen to the BBC or read any of their newspapers there is a stream of that sort of anti middle-America stuff coming from Brits. Not to mention those living here like John Oliver and Piers Morgan often deride middle-America.

  5. Great review!!
    Regarding the profanity, it’s in everything these days. Look at all of the “studies” that are released stating that people who curse are highly intelligent. I have seen several articles referring to several studies over the years. Of course, the idiot who is in charge of the study is a major league ‘curser’, and all of his half-wit druggie friends are cursers too. Search on google for ‘cursing is a sign of intelligence’ and see what comes up. Total idiots read this and think “I better start cursing more, so people don’t realize that I’m an idiot”. The writers for all of these shows don’t want anyone to realize the truth about them, that they are not as smart as they think they are and put themselves out to be. So they write a lot of cursing into the scripts. It makes it difficult for those of us with a vocabulary and a hint of intelligence to watch this garbage. I have said for years that cursing is a sign of a small vocabulary. And brain.
    That’s all.

  6. I have not seen the movie. Thanks to this review, along with many others, I don’t believe I’ll ever waste a dime watching it. Sorry you lost six bucks JP! 🙁

    Stay warm and dry,

    Carla In California

  7. Jameson,
    I sincerely thank you for the warning. I had heard what the title was supposed to be referring to and thought it was one I would make sure to see when I could rent a DVD from the local video shop. Now I know I will be giving the movie a very wide berth. Thanks again!

    Nancy Darlene

  8. I have family in Missouri on my mother’s side. Many live in the Ozarks… and I mean deeeep in the the Ozarks. Nicest people I know.

    If you have ever watched some of The Beverly Hillbillies episodes that feature back to where the Clampetts came from… it’s like that, except not so rustic. Sure, some of my family down there don’t have electricity and still use an outhouse, those that still love deep in the hills. But it’s just like you would see in those old back home episodes of the Clampetts – they are kind and sweet people and a pleasure to hang around and visit with.

    Sounds like a crappy movie, and well worth avoiding.

    TD Bauer

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