Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Forget the misguided moral and political complaints:Three Billboards is a masterpiece, a dark tale about grief, anger, and the inadequate cushions of community. It’s also funny as hell. Writer-director Martin McDonagh, an Irish playwright (two words that say much), has long explored Biblical themes through vernacular-profane language and deeply flawed characters (his best film until now,In Bruges, was basically about sin). Here, Frances McDormand (who won an Oscar for Best Actress) plays a brittle divorced mother who, suffering over the brutal murder of her daughter, posts three billboards blaming the local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) for failing to catch the killer. In classic McDonagh fashion, none of the characters are very appealing (even the daughter, seen in flashback, is a foul-mouthed piece of work); but, in the tradition of Jean Renoir, they all have their reasons—though these characters, unlike Renoir’s, find no redemption, making do (or not) with awkward gestures of kindness and restless wanderings. (The movie even ends with that most American search for meaning—the uncertain road trip.)’s rich,vivid 4Ktransfer looks alternately lush and harsh, as the mood demands. I compared it with the Blu-ray disc (which comes in the same box), and the gulf is as wide as the one between Blu-ray and DVD. Take the film’s first scene: Sam Rockwell as a less-than-bright racist deputy (whose Oscar-winning performance is much subtler on second viewing) drives along an empty road at night. On the Ultra HDdisc, his face is barely lit by the street lights but every hair and wrinkle is palpable; the night sky is inkjet black, yet the trees’ dark green leaves sway against it. On the Blu-ray, his face appears smoother, the sky and the leaves smudged toward gray. This isn’t just the stuff of ooh-ah for videophiles. TheUltra HD disc, like the theatrical print, sets a tone of mystery and menace that the Blu-ray doesn’t. In daylight scenes,too, detail is fine and the sense of depth remarkable, except for a slight bit of noise in long establishing shots.

There’s nothing ear-popping about the soundtrack, but it’s clear and immersive.The music track also sounds very fine, especially the airy flutes and horns mixed way in the back.

The Blu-ray disc (but not theUltra HD one) features some HD extras: a making-of featurette with a few bits of insight, a couple of deleted scenes that aren’t missed, and an odd, creepy short that McDonagh made in 2004.—Fred Kaplan

Ultra HD Blu-ray  
Studio Fox, 2017 
Aspect Ratio: 2.39:1 
Audio Format: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 
Length: 115 minutes 
Director: Martin McDonagh 
Starring: Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson