Rex Reed’s writing has drawn criticism in the past for factual errors and mean-spirited insults. Reed’s film criticism has been published in major outlets for several decades, including The New York Daily News, GQ, Vogue, and The New York Times. Last year, he made headlines when his review of “The Shape of Water” mistakenly listed the movie’s director as “Benecio del Toro,” spelling the actor’s name wrong and confusing him with Guillermo del Toro, the movie’s actual director. In his negative review of “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri,” published in November 16 by The Observer, Reed seems to have invented a scene that does not happen in the movie.
Written under the headline “‘‘Three Billboards’ Is a Wannabe Coen Brothers Bag of Dumb Jokes,” Reed’s review is chock full of cheap barbs at writer/director Martin McDonagh, whom he says “labors under the delusion that he’s a movie director.” After spending the first two paragraphs ripping into McDonagh’s Tony-nominated plays and complaining about the price of stamps, Reed finally digs into summarizing the movie:
“Deputy Dixon ([Sam] Rockwell) declares war, but he’s already one fox trot away from the loony bin, so he inflicts most of the damage on himself, goes berserk, and sets fire to the courthouse, burning half his face off.”
Not only is there no courthouse scene (or seen) in the movie, but Dixon has nothing to do with setting fire to the police station, which is how his face get burnt. That is done by Frances McDormand’s character, Mildred, which Reed did catch: “Mildred, meanwhile, blows up the police station.” Reed does not seem to understand these are in fact the same event. What’s more, a majority of the film takes place in and around the police station, and the events following the fire hinge on Mildred’s guilt over having injured Dixon. If Dixon injured himself, the entire third act makes no sense.
The mistake would be slightly less glaring if Reed’s pan hadn’t been so full of vitriol. In his summary, he writes that the film “wobbles unsteadily between edgy, repulsive violence and edgy, unstable black comedy—both sides of the equation losing balance in a slick morass of moral collapse.”
If Reed is going to so mercilessly trash a movie, he might want to pay closer attention next time.