This review may contain spoilers. I can handle the truth.
Melissa Tamminga’s review published on Letterboxd:
This review may contain spoilers.
Random (very spoilery) notes:
-The title/place name is oddly specific for such a nondescript town/place. Why the title? Is the town name important? Is it a small town? Large town? Small enough for one character to know about another character’s illness, but too big for hospital staff to know they shouldn’t put the perpetrator of violence in the same room with the victim of his violence? (But also, the hospital is so small-town they don’t have a separate burn unit?)
-Raped, murdered girl (who remains almost totally personality-less - except for being rage-y and teenager-y) at the center of a story again? Guess we’re going to continue to squeeze every last drop of we can out of that beautiful dead girl storyline.
-White police chief is just going to go ahead and overlook police torture of a black man, and we are supposed to think he’s a good guy . . . because he has cancer? Also because he has two cute daughters and a super hot Australian wife (who somehow made it to small town Missouri) who is 21 years younger than he is and totally adores him? Police brutality against nameless black men, the rape and murder of mostly unknown girls is what we’re going with for fresh storylines in 2017?
(Sidenote re: the chief and his wife: Maybe it’s just me and I’m a bit over-protective, but if there were a rapist and murderer at large in a small town, I probably wouldn’t leave my two daughters, who may or may not be able to swim, beside a river by themselves with a game they are a little too old for in order to go have sex with my partner?)
-So all it takes for a misogynist/racist/extremely violent person to become a totally new man is a letter filled with sentimental advice from a man he’s known just three years? Proffered orange juice can also aid the transformation?
-So when the transformed man makes the transformation, we just forget about the crimes he’s committed? The torturing of a black man? Brutal violence against other men and women of the town? Who needs justice, I suppose, when you get to see a white man transform into a nice guy? (The fact that he was fired only after violence against white people, the fact that he was not prosecuted for any crimes at all, could, in another film, be some kind of commentary on police brutality and systemic injustice at work in this country. This film doesn’t seem at all interested in that though. We are supposed to be quite happy to hang out with the Rockwell at the end of the film.)
-Incidentally, I guess PTSD isn’t a thing? If someone beats you to a pulp and throws you out a second story window, you’ll have no problem spending days and nights in the same room with that person, waiting on him or her. Forgiveness can be a powerful storyline, but forgiveness is pretty cheap if it ignores inflicted pain and the need for justice.
-A black woman getting unjustly thrown into prison for possession of marijuana is no big deal to her, then? Her main goal would be, as soon as she gets out, to help her white friend. (Also, she’s a successful, established business owner, but I guess it’s obvious that she’d have an immediate connection with the billboard painter? Because . . . he’s black? I mean, that’s how it works for white people. I see another white person, and I’m like, “we could totally be best friends or maybe even date! - you’re white, I’m white - it’s perfect!” If the film were at all intelligent about its commentary on race, there might be room for showing how two people of color might find solace in one another’s company in a sea of white supremacists, but this film doesn’t establish any sense at all of a black community or even of a need for black community.)
-Violent spousal abuse can be forgiven if there’s a raped dead daughter involved, then? It’s ok if he slams his ex-wife against a wall and chokes her. ‘Cause . . . he’s grieving? Ex-wife will hold his hand a couple of minutes later. No problem. (This doesn’t bother the new 19-year old girlfriend either. Thumbs up. She’s good with it. She, of course, as many beautiful 19-year old women are, is very, very stupid. But she might function in the naive wise-child role, accidentally saying profound things she reads on bookmarks.)
-The fact that the ex-husband is an ex-cop is a weird detail and missed opportunity. The script was perhaps was at some point attempting to establish some kind of pattern of police brutality and violence with that mention (?), but the violent tendencies of the husband and his connection to police work are not teased out in any way.
-I guess Peter Dinklage is in the cast so characters have the opportunity to use the word “midget”? What a cruel little storyline that meanders away into nothing.
-So the dumb-blonde stereotype of a secretary who got punched in the face was just a “gasp!” action point? So much for her character! (In a relatively small cast, the script has TWO really stupid, young, beautiful women?)
-A police officer getting a sample of DNA from under his fingernails, by himself, labeling it himself? Okaaaay, sure. That’ll work.
-So I guess that guy that came in a threatened Frances McDormand’s character, by name, was just a bad dude from Idaho? No connection to her or the town? (Did I miss something? He’s just a random in-person troll who gets pleasure from making very specific threats to someone he doesn’t know? Convenient to have a random loudmouth rapist show up in town so McDormand and Rockwell can take a maybe-vigilante road-trip together at the end.)
-What was that random and incredibly tone-deaf “analogy” comparing Bloods and Crips to Catholic priests? Injustice, poverty, police violence, and a racial context relative to gang warfare completely ignored in order to get a zinger in about . . . priests? Priests, who aren’t otherwise in any other way a part of the story? My friend pointed out after the movie that the analogy might have worked (at a stretch) if it were a police officer coming to tell McDormand to back off. If she had pointed out that the ways in which all gang members were made complicit in the actions of other gang members was similar to the ways in which all police officers are complicit in the actions of other police officers, maybe - MAYBE - the analogy would have worked in a slightly less tone-deaf way. But even then, there is so little effort to understand the complexities of structural injustice, particularly relative to race, in this country, that I wouldn’t trust the film to do it right.
-Frances McDormand makes little sense to me holistically as a character. In individual moments I believe her because she’s so good as an actor. But this film just makes me want to re-watch Olive Kitteridge and see her so masterfully play a much, much better realized rage-filled, grief-stricken, despairing, bitter, lonely character.
-I find this film, overall, to be utterly baffling. It feels so deeply confident and so terribly, terribly wrong. It feels like the leftovers from an abandoned TV series, a hodgepodge of half-begun storylines and half-sketched characters, each of whom belong in different settings. It also feels a bit like someone wanted to try to tackle every hot button issue he could think of and threw a bit of this and a bit of that in the script-soup - but didn’t actually bother to do any research on any of the issues or talk to any of the people such issues actually affect. I get the sense Frances McDormand’s character at the center (sort of at the center - Rockwell’s arc seems just as important to the story, if not more) amounts to some kind of (probably unconscious) justification for tackling such issues, too. As if having a woman at the center of the film will make it all ok because women are so often side-characters. Make a woman central, throw in a black best friend and black police chief, and we’re good to go. Carte blanche to tread into any socio-political territory you like, say any words you like, show any violence you like. Something like that.