The bar is raised mighty high for the first official film release of the year, THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI.
If you see any film better, 2018 will be a bumper year. If you see any film its equal, it will be a bumper year.

THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI has three building blocks of brilliance.

One, a layered, literate, intelligent, un-lazy screenplay that’s true and honest and terribly funny and beautifully sad, a volatile mixture that tickles your funny bone then slaps you in the face.  Two, a director, who knows what he wants and allows a splendid cast to get on with it.  Three, a splendid cast, individually sensational, and cohesively impeccable as an ensemble.

Two of those building blocks are the responsibility of one man, Martin McDonagh, who wrote the foundation stone screenplay and then directed it into screen life.  THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is a cry of anguish and pain, of guilt and consequences, of retribution and redemption, about the eternal conflict between our inner demons and the better angels of our nature.

Mildred Hayes is a mother in mourning. Her daughter, Angela, was raped and murdered, months ago and the police investigation has become moribund. Mildred rents three billboards on the road of the atrocity to advertise the police – particularly, the police chief’s failure to close the case and bring the offender to justice.  This opens a can of conflict within the community, some appalled by her stance, some staunchly supportive.

Don’t be surprised if lightning strikes twice at the Oscars this year. Twenty years ago, Frances McDormand won Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role for her performance as local policewoman, Marge Gunderson. Her Mildred Hayes, in deadlier deadpan, will undoubtedly become another signature characterisation of this exquisite and accomplished actress and worthy of any award bestowed.

Woody Harrelson as Police Chief William Willoughby may well have hit a career high with his performance of a man under siege both professionally and personally. Subtle and supple in nuance, that taps into those better angels of our nature.

Sam Rockwell as Dixon, at once the dippy deputy of Southern policing stereotyping, initially takes that red-neck cliché by the throat, throttles it, bottles it, and subverts it.

These are the three thrilling thesps that make up a triumvirate of tensions between the bereaved, justice denied mother, and the town’s police force, but there’s three billboards worth of outstanding supporting talent.

Lucas Hedges propounds on his promise of motion picture mastery prominently displayed in last year’s magnificent Manchester by the Sea, here playing the dutifully diplomatic son and sibling of the slain sister.  Caleb Landry Jones, memorable as menacing in Get Out and a malicious malcontent in American Made, shows a more sympathetic side as the local advertising agent aiding and abetting the billboards’ incendiary message.

John Hawkes is Mildred’s ex-cop ex husband while Peter Dinklage plays a local smitten by the mourning mother, captivated by her crusading grit.  And there is Abbie Cornish, Samara Weaving, ZeljkoIvanek, Clarke Peters and Amanda Warren.

With a cast of this sublime craft, it should come as no surprise that THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI is the enthralling entertainment that it is. What is surprising that the surprises keep coming as the yarn unravels, revealing all the intricacies of the bigger picture.

The devil is in the detail and THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI abounds and abides in detail, dazzling and diamond cut, complex and complete, from the foundation of McDonagh’s writing, through to Ben Davis’ striking cinematography, Inbal Weinberg’s ingenious production design, Melissa Toth’s inspired cloth and Carter Burwell’s sublime score.

The force of truth flows through THREE BILLBOARDS OUTSIDE EBBING, MISSOURI, moving with amusement and anger, a rich and unexpected story, a celebration of single mindedness and an ode to common decency.