A fantastic black comedy about catharsis and culpability, excellently acted by a brilliant cast.
The film never goes down the easy road, the easy story beats, it twists and turns and meanders and feels so anchored to reality all the while, such honest dialogue delivered by such fantastic actors. Frances McDormand and Woody Harrelson do very strong work as leads, but Sam Rockwell is the revelation here, mapping a nuanced, difficult journey for a complicated character coherently.
There’s no easy justice here, and that’s not even exactly what characters are searching for. Recognition, care, any level of validating that something terrible happened and the only response isn’t just to sweep it aside and try to retain normalcy, that’s what is being sought here, and the film doesn’t give easy catharsis where it isn’t due – or even where it is. It’s depressingly true-to-life with all its meandering disappointments, but written in such an honest, twinkling, black comedy style that the film feels more honest and funny than depressing and pointless.
Finding direct catharsis and closure is so impossible so much of the time, but crimes and injustice spread far beyond the events people are personally affected by. McDormand delivers an excellent speech about group culpability in the film, and it’s through targeting the indirectly culpable that the film manages to find some peace. Recognising any injustice instead of just smothering it with the status quo (whether personally, in that small town style seen in the film, or the gang or church styles referenced in the film) is the key the film seems to find. Direct goals and justice aren’t so much attained, but validating the broader injustices is something. People mightn’t be able to find closure or catharsis directly, but they can help other’s find theirs, and they can indirectly, maybe, make things better.
It never takes the easy route, and is impressively even-handed and nuanced even amongst so many story inclusions that would have been easy to be reductive about. Four billboards and a badge.