Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

 RATED-(R)-115 MIN-2017

                      Inspired acting and writing are a sure sign in this fine film.   

Mildred Hayes (The absolutely fabulous Frances McDormand) has had enough. Eight months after her teenage daughter was brutally raped, set on fire, and then murdered, this divorced mom of two, who works in a gift shop in town, has had an epiphany. Driving by three old tattered unused billboards, on a road not used much since a new one was built in her small town of Epping, Missouri, she has a plan. She visits a young man, Red Welby (a very good Caleb Landry Jones) in charge of those said advertising signs and asks what exactly she can put on there without getting into any sort of legal trouble. See, Mildred thinks the local police have forgotten about her poor daughter, and she has decided that she has found a way to show them that she hasn't and she wants answers. The three, painted bold red signs read: Raped While Dying; And Still No Arrests; How Come, Chief Willoughby?

When the small-minded, and rather racist deputy Dixon ( an absolutely brilliant Sam Rockwell) sees the new billboards that she has chosen to put her messages on, being painted in the middle of the night by workers, he's equally pissed and confused at what this all will mean. Dixon quickly alerts his boss, and this doesn't sit too well with sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, who is just perfect in this role). He takes this personally, as he is a devoted family man and feels for Mildred. Mildred's son Robbie (Lucas Hedges) is not too happy with how mom has decided to channel her anger and grief, as they pass by and he sees the newly painted signs on his way to being dropped off at school. He is still reeling from his sister's death and doesn't want the attention.  He fears that Mildred will rile up the locals. She does.

After attracting the local news with a spot on TV about the billboards, she really gets things stirred up and this prompts a visit by Willoughby to Mildred's home. Decked out in blue overalls and a bandana, Willoughby asks Mildred why she is doing this? He tells her that they exhausted their resources to find her daughter's murderer, but they came up with zilch. She tells him: "The time it took you to get out here whining like a bitch, Willoughby, some other poor girl's probably out there being butchered." He tells her he is dying of pancreatic cancer but that doesn't seem to garner any sympathy from her either. She likes the sheriff and knows he is a good man, but she is on a mission.

Meanwhile, any chance she can, when she sees Dixon, Mildred gives him shit and shows no respect to the deputy who still lives at home with his nasty, racist mom. This drives him crazy, as this little man in an even smaller town, doesn't understand why she won't show him the proper respect. Some of the scenes in the police station are a hoot, as Mildred just storms in and says whatever she wants, to these men she has no time for. This also drives the station Sergeant (Zeljko Ivanek) bonkers.

Obviously, as things begin to escalate, we are prepping for a series of showdowns between Mildred, Willoughby, and Dixon. Mildred, who had very little and now even less, is empowered by this devil may care attitude, and when her ex-husband Charlie (John Hawkes) shows up to give her crap about what she is doing, it escalates into a shocking scene between her, Charlie, and Robby, until you realize that this is the family dynamic. It is typical of them.

This is a small character-driven film about moments of great acting and fabulous dialogue written by the playwright and third-time director (Martin McDonagh). Like his two previous efforts (In Bruges) and (Seven Psychopaths ) McDonagh has a real gift for creating vivid, dynamic characters, who he then pits against in scenes where they exchange rapid-fire, witty, and stinging dialogue. He really hits it dead on, especially if he chooses the right actors. That's probably why many of them have acted in several of his plays and movies. They get it. Its funny, he is kind of an amalgam of Scorsese and Tarantino, in the way that extreme violence is a moment away, and then there is a wonderful scene, with inspired writing performed by actors who chew it up. When it works well, it is great fun.

There are moments of heart in this film, and scenes of reflection that are nice touches. I can't praise the cast enough (McDormand and Harrelson shine) but for me, (Rockwell) has the most challenging part of the three, as his character arc is the toughest. He starts as this mean, dumb, racist loser, and then gradually and legitimately becomes something else. That is great acting and writing. How do you come back from a tragedy that befalls a few of these characters in this film? Where do you find purpose and a will to move forward? (McDonagh's) answers are not what you expect. He sets up an interesting premise, stumbles a bit in the middle where it meanders a bit, then brilliantly and elegantly, recovers for a perfect ending.
I can't wait for his next project.

You should see this movie!

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