If there was any real justice in the world then Mildred Hayes would find her daughter’s killer, and also Frances McDormand who portrays the angry mother in this movie about her, will be a shoo-in for a nomination for a Best Actress Academy Award when they are announced. This new enthralling black comedy from writer/director Martin McDonagh provides McDormand with the most perfect role to shine as a grieving parent determined to discover the truth, and who has an unfiltered quirky humor that rubs everyone up the wrong way.
Since her daughter was killed, raped and her body burned seven months ago, the police in this one-street town have made no progress at all in tracing the killer. So Mildred has the idea of shaking things up a little by renting three dilapidated billboards on a quiet road near her house to publicly vent her anger.
The message is aimed at Police Chief Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) who is not only well liked in the town, but it is also public knowledge that he has terminal cancer too. When he uses that card to persuade Mildred to take the offending billboards down, she just trots out with “They won’t be as effective after you croak.”
He’s actually the good cop in this story, as Dixon (Sam Rockwell) one of his Deputies has something of a reputation for beating up innocent black men rather than actually dealing with crime. Middle-aged Dixon has more than his share of psychopathic tendencies, egged on by his controlling mother who he still lives with. He is the one who takes most umbrage about the Billboards, and is determined to take matters into his own hand.
The situation gets even more exasperated when the Chief not wanting to wait any longer to die, takes his own life, and everybody in town, wants to hold Mildred account for his early demise. Especially the now totally unhinged Dixon.
McDonagh packs this very unpredictable and engrossing story with side plots and secondary characters for which he has creatively cast a stream of very talented actors . Lucas Hedges (Manchester By the Sea) plays Mildred’s son Ribbie who has the unenviable task of trying to keep her calm, since Charlie (John Hawkes) her ex-husband has now taken up with a new 19 year old girlfriend.
Peter Dinklage plays James who has the hots for an uninterested Mildred, but she does at least agree to go on a date with him when he provides her with a much-needed alibi after the Police Station is burned down to the ground.
It is not just MacDormand that grabs our attention with a tour-de-force performance with her combination of anger and her wonderfully delivered sardonic humor, but also Rockwell who has never been this good before playing the deranged simpleton of a cop.
At the end of the day McDonagh ensures that the main story is not just about rage and loss, but also about acceptance and forgiveness. At several stages in the movie he leads us to believe that everything will be neatly tied up by the time the final credits role, only to add yet another layer just to remind us that even in the most simplest of tales, not everything will end how it should.