Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

Who knew that three dilapidated billboards along a lonesome stretch of road could stir up such division and conflict in a small town? I guess it depends on what the billboards saThree_Billboards_Outside_Ebbing,_Missouriy.

The plot has more twists and turns than a winding road through the Ozark mountains. Just when you think you see where this film is going it suddenly veers into a steep turn. It is one of those films that does not resolve itself cleanly at the end, so beware.

The film is many things but foremost it is an actor’s delight. Not a sour note in the chorus. Each character has their own story, and reveals their complexity and depth. Can a character be likeable, flawed, sometimes spiteful, and weak, all in the scope of a two hour film? Can a character be both a hero and a villain? Can several characters alternate between hero and villain? This is not your normal film. Normal isn’t always interesting. Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Sam Rockwell, John Hawkes, and Peter Dinklage all give fine performances. Especially McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell.

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You are probably familiar with McDormand (Fargo, Mississippi Burning, North Country) and Harrelson (Cheers, Natural Born Killers, The People vs. Larry Flint), but Sam Rockwell (The Green Mile, Galaxy Quest, Heist) is a name that probably draws a blank even though he’s been around for years. Usually playing very offbeat characters, dopey with a dangerous bent, his character starts out in the same vein but suddenly gains great perspective and undergoes a very believable, but unexpected metamorphosis. Rockwell turns a supporting role into the spine of the film. He is an Oscar contender and this film will elevate his stature even more.

There are quietly fleeting moments of comedy that appear and are gone in the flash of an eye, but the tone of the film is one of suspenseful mourning as death and the threat of violence are just under the surface. The premise of the film is the unsolved, grisly murder of McDormand’s teenage daughter, a crime that haunts her into action that divides the small community and spurs the conflict between of the major players.

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Written and directed by Martin McDonagh (In Bruges), this film is not unlike a Coen Brothers film in attitude and mixture of offbeat and flawed characters. McDormand, married to one of the Coen Brothers, easily fits into the character of Mildred Hayes, whose pain and sense of vengeance, steers her onto a wide swath of destruction in the course of pursuing her daughter’s killer.

Woody Harrelson, who can play a man with sweetness or a scoundrel, often at the same time, gives the most normal performance of the group, although he embellishes it with typical Harrelson flair.

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