Starring Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrellson

It wasn’t an accident to use Missouri as the film’s setting. With all the recent baggage coming from that state (one not often thought of as southern), McDonagh sets his tale of a single mother going full vigilante after her daughter’s rape/murder goes unsolved. Mildred Hayes (played by McDormand, who will most likely get an Oscar nod) is not a very charming woman. She’s bitter and mean, and, after aiming some rather pointed criticisms of the town’s well loved sheriff (Harrellson), she becomes a pariah. Sam Rockwell plays Officer Dixon, a dumb, racist, and inept cop at war with seemingly everybody. How the characters come together is surprising and satisfying though the path getting there seems  dramatically uneven. That would be a fatal shortcoming in most films, but here, perhaps because the writing is so sly, savage, and challenging, with the actors fully up to the challenge, that its bizarre shifts in tone become part of its strength. It feels like McDonagh was rebelling against tone. McDormand is sensational, Harrellson makes a moving tragic figure, and Rockwell turns an over the top characterization into an unforgettable character. I’m still questioning whether my problems with the film actually were problems, which is a sign that Three Billboards is something special.

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