Duck, you suckers – this darkly comic bonfire of a movie shoots off dangerous sparks that can burn and leave marks. A livewire Frances McDormand will blow you away as Mildred Hayes, a divorced woman who’s mad as hell at the police in her town of Ebbing, Missouri. So mad, in fact, that she rents three billboards at $5000 per month to embarrass the local cops who haven’t found the killer who raped and incinerated her teen daughter seven months before – since, according to Mildred, cops are “too busy torturing black folks.”
Sheriff Willoughby (a soulful, exasperated Woody Harrelson) doesn’t like being publicly mocked by billboards that read: “Still No Arrests?” “How Come, Chief Willoughby?” and “Raped While Dying.” It’s Willoughby’s racist, hot-tempered, pea-brained, momma’s-boy deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell), however, who’s practically pissing himself from rage. Rockwell, who makes Dixon horrendous and humane sometimes both in a same breath, is just tremendous – so crazy good and volcanically funny that you want to spontaneously applaud whenever he shows up.
Explosively written and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh (his first two films were In Bruges and Seven Psychopaths), the film is a launching pad for the combustible force of nature that is McDormand. She batters and cusses her way through the role, digging into McDonagh’s ripe, raunchy language like the verbal feast it is. To a hapless TV news reporter who claims the case is closed, Mildred retorts: “This is just getting started – why don’t you put that on your Good Morning, fucking Missouri fucking wakeup broadcast, bitch.” (This needs to become a meme ASAP.)
In a dynamite portrayal to rank with her Oscar-winning Fargo, her Tony-lauded Good People and her Emmy-crowned Olive Kitteridge, McDormand should be adding more gold to her impressive collection. She’s phenomenal, though all of the performances are first-rate – including Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s son, John Hawkes as her abusive ex-husband and Peter Dinklage as a local who takes Mildred on a date (God help him). By turns hellaciously hilarious and deeply sorrowful, the film hits you where it hurts, at the nexus of helplessness and fury where a lot of citizens of Trump’s America find themselves these days. A blunt-force artist with the soul of a poet, McDonagh is not afraid of adding salt to an open wound; more importantly, he offers no easy answers, outside a hint of forgiveness. Thanks to him and his firebrand star, Three Billboards is more is a no-brainer awards contender – it’s a renegade masterpiece that will get you good.