Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards 2

Martin McDonagh’s tragi-comedy turns out to be the most humane of movies: a non-sentimental but intimate look at people under the greatest of stresses but also a remarkable testament to the healing, or at least coping, powers of empathy.

Mildred is angry. Months have passed after her daughter’s rape and murder. The cops aren’t doing anything about it. And so, she goes public, renting out three billboards on the outskirts of their small Midwest town, sending a loud and blisteringly clear message to the area’s most liked chief of police. Setting wheels she never imagined in motion, Mildred takes steps she never would have expected, both in desperation and, maybe not surprisingly, in compassion.

A completely first rate cast is led by the inimitable Frances McDormand, an actress never afraid to growl as she still draws us in. Woody Harrelson is wonderful, too, as the Sheriff with his own story and Sam Rockwell shines as the furious deputy. But as excellent as these three are, and they are, it’s their supporting players (fully developed by John Hawkes, Peter Dinklage, Caleb Landry Jones and Lucas Hedges, among others) and McDonagh’s clear eyed understanding of small town America that makes this shaggy, zig-zaggy tale so relatable. Nothing is assumed, nothing is given short shrift. There is violence that runs deep. So, too, does friendship. Your ex may not live far away, everybody basically knows everybody else’s business. And generally, they’re kind of ok with it. Or at least they learn to live with it. Yes, remarkably, as rich an affair as this is, the fluid story telling and constant surprises keep the film rolling along, taking us on a wildly entertaining, emotional and fulfilling ride.