[Screen It]


(2017) (Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson) (R)

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Black Comedy/Drama: A woman must contend with the backlash stemming from her attempts to shame the local police department for having not solved the rape and murder of her teenage daughter.
Mildred Hayes (FRANCES McDORMAND) is a middle-aged woman who lives in Ebbing, Missouri and is fed up with the fact that the local police department, run by Sheriff Bill Willoughby (WOODY HARRELSON), has not yet solved the kidnapping, rape, and murder case involving her teenage daughter from seven months ago. Divorced from Charlie (JOHN HAWKES) -- who since been seeing 19-year-old Penelope (SAMARA WEAVING) -- and raising their teenage son, Robbie (LUCAS HEDGES), Mildred decides the best way to spur on further action is by shaming the police department. To do so, she rents out three billboards from Red Welby (CALEB LANDRY JONES) just outside of town on a barely traveled road and uses them to call out Sheriff Willoughby on not solving the case.

That doesn't sit well with the sheriff who has bigger concerns regarding his terminal pancreatic cancer that will soon leave his wife, Anne (ABBIE CORNISH), widowed and alone to raise their two young daughters. His deputies, including racist hothead Jason Dixon (SAM ROCKWELL) -- who lives with his mother, Momma Dixon (SANDY MARTIN) -- don't take kindly to the public slight, although she gets some support from her coworker, Denise (AMANDA WARREN), and a local man, James (PETER DINKLAGE), who seems attracted to her.

As town pressure mounts against her and Jason becomes more of a loose cannon, Mildred stands her ground, determined to get justice for her daughter's murder.

OUR TAKE: 7.5 out of 10
In today's world of knee-jerk reactions, easily accessible social media and the so-called victim society mindset, it's easy for anyone to rail against another person or business establishment they believe has wronged them in some fashion. Of course, there's the old defamation of character and libel issues, but that usually doesn't stop anyone from firing off some angry post, tweet or video in attempts to lay down some shame.

In the old days, that took a considerably greater amount of time and effort. One could track down the person or those who run the company and confront them in public, preferably in as big a social setting as possible. Another favorite used to be an angry letter to the editor of the local newspaper. But I don't recall anyone -- despite the preponderance of them back then and even still to do this day -- using one or more billboards in the same way.

And yet that's the route Mildred Hayes takes in the appropriately if somewhat awkwardly titled "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri." Nearly passing for a film set in the past -- if not for a brief Google search reference -- this offering from writer/director Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges," "Seven Psychopaths") falls into the black dramedy category and feels quite a bit like a film the Coen Brothers could have made. It's also one of the best pics of 2017.

In it, Frances McDormand plays a mother who's grown tired of the local police department being unable to bring her daughter's rapist and murderer to justice. And with seven months having passed since that crime, she feels that the local sheriff (Woody Harrelson) has moved on and isn't using all available resources to find and capture the perp.

Accordingly, she rents out three billboards outside of town on a barely traveled road and attempts to shame the local PD into action. That doesn't sit well with most of the local townsfolk, be that one of the deputies (Sam Rockwell), her ex (John Hawkes), or even her dentist who literally attempts to drill her for her actions.

That doesn't work out so well for him (or one of his fingernails), and that sort of shocking, black comedy element (one of several) is what will remind many of the Coens and some of their past offerings (with McDormand's presence only adding to that). Less brutal humor is also present, and McDonagh's script is one of the delights, both in terms of plot and dialogue.

The latter is especially true in a series of letters written by one specific character as related to their observation of other characters' behavior that mix insight, comedy, and pathos into some of the film's best moments.

Performances are strong across the board, especially from McDormand as the tired and bitter mother, Harrelson as the sheriff who isn't the bad guy one might initially suspect, and Rockwell as a racist, hot-head deputy who's more complex than he first appears.

Like its protagonist's unorthodox way of getting her point across, the film feels unlike most of the cookie cutter pics released by the major studios nowadays, and that, along with all of the work in front of and behind the camera, is what makes it stand out from the crowd.

While it won't be for all viewers, those who don't mind the decidedly R-rated material will be treated to a pretty terrific film that should get its fair share of accolades come award season time. "Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri" rates as a 7.5 out of 10.

Reviewed November 29, 2017 / Posted December 1, 2017

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