Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, is the latest film of writer-director Martin McDonagh. The billboards are on a remote road near the home of Mildred Hayes (Frances McDormand), whose teenage daughter Angela (Kathryn Newton) was raped and murdered seven months before the story starts. With money she's scraped together, Mildred rents them for a year, using them to spell out a blunt message about her desire to see the killer hunted down.
This is language as weapon, with a vengeance. The premise sets the tone for a series of confrontations between the implacable Mildred and the generally disapproving townsfolk, including her volatile ex-husband (John Hawkes) and the weary town sheriff (Woody Harrelson). These scenes are as charged, yet much of the dialogue retains an innocent silliness, despite the serious subject matter, encouraging us to laugh where we shouldn't. It's clear that McDonagh's ideas about the American heartland, such as they are, derive more from pop culture than anywhere else. Above all, the blend of quaintness, bloody violence and tongue-in-cheek metaphysics shows a debt to the Coen brothers, McDormand is a longstanding member of the Coen team. Three Billboards could be described as an entertaining story, but McDonagh leaves certain connections to be made by the viewer. Ultimately there's more redemption for the characters than might be expected.