Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ★ 1/2

Let’s get right to it: Those three billboards, spread out one after another on a stretch of back road, display a simple succession of messages. The first, “RAPED WHILE DYING,” is followed by “AND STILL NO ARRESTS?” Then finally, “HOW COME, CHIEF WILLOUGHBY?” Since a highway was built, few people will drive past them, but Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand, Oscar-winning actress from Fargo) has made her point, succinctly. She’s purchased the outdoor ad space after her teenaged daughter’s corpse was found. It’s been seven months without any answers, so the hardened woman, scarred from grief, has gone public with her grievance against the local police and their captain (Woody Harrelson, in a well-measured turn). McDormand and her character are a force to be reckoned with, which she ably demonstrates when she dresses down a condescending priest, using words that would make Jesus himself blush. It’s no surprise then that the film is the brainchild of British writer/director Martin McDonagh, the talented playwright who made one hell of a feature film debut with 2008’s In Bruges. His follow-up, Seven Psychopaths, wasn’t nearly as accomplished, but his latest is a return to form. As you might suspect, the film doesn’t quite go where you expect, which is half the fun—when there’s fun to be had. A somber, sobering affair, you won’t soon forget the explosive exchanges, nor the odd characters played by pros like Sam Rockwell and Peter Dinklage. (At Boston Common, Coolidge Corner and Kendall Square.) 

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