• by Wes Singleton

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, B+

Rated R, 115 minutes

I always heard the term "choose your battles wisely," but the powerful, funny new dark comedy "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" seems to throw that (and much more) out the window. Flawed, messy and superbly-acted, it's not a perfect ride, but one you won't be able to look away from, either.

After months have passed without a culprit in her daughter's murder case, Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand, excellent) makes a bold move, painting three signs leading into her town with a controversial message directed at William Willoughby (Woody Harrelson), the town's revered chief of police. When his second-in-command, Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell, as good as ever) -- an immature mother's boy with a penchant for violence -- gets involved, the battle is only exacerbated.

The entertaining, charming dramedy "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" is one of the year's most memorable films, thanks to Oscar-caliber performances, direction and writing. Leading the charge is Oscar-winner McDormand, whose a force to be reckoned with here as Mildred, the frustrated mother whose daughter was brutally killed and nothing seems to be done about it.

Mildred battles the entire town, but especially has a beef with the police, led by its tough chief Willoughby, who has some big issues of his own, played with compassion by Harrelson in a part that's smaller than you might think. Even more memorable is his high-strung, racist deputy, played with wonderful zeal by the excellent Rockwell, who along with McDormand should see many accolades.

"Three Billboards" is directed and written by "In Bruges'" Martin McDonagh, and it brims with a certain profane appeal and intensity, though that is both its strength and weaknesses. It deals with a considerable amount of dark, dark issues, and while it's refreshing to see a film deal honestly and often unpredictably with the messy side of life, he raises far more questions than answers, particularly in the last act. Mildred's anger (and according to one character humorously, it begets more anger) behind her motivations is certainly understood and felt, though it doesn't always resolve anything.

There are also a few superfluous characters - "Game of Thrones'" Peter Dinklage, John Hawkes ("Winter's Bone"), Caleb Landry Jones ("American Made") and recent Oscar nominee Lucas Hedges are all underused, but a commanding McDormand makes up for it with a few strong monologues - an early one directed toward a priest is most memorable - that should easily net her another Oscar nomination and make you thankful that yes, there are still strong roles for mature women.

"Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri" isn't perfect and it may not resolve everything clearly, but it brims with humor, intensity and compassion, even when its characters don't always make the best decisions. Also, don't forget, as fun as it looks, it earns that R rating. Put this on your list to see, and don't be surprised if McDormand, Rockwell and McDonagh all receive Oscar nominations.

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