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Golden Globes Nominations Drama Film

Frances McDormand gives an Oscar-worthy performance in "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri." 

It’s not a Coen brothers movie, but it feels like one.

That’s partly because the incredible Frances McDormand (who has appeared in Coen brothers movies and, not so coincidentally, is married to director Joel Coen) has the starring role. She will forever be remembered for her Academy-Award-winning role of police Marge Gunderson in the classic Coen brothers film “Fargo.”

Her role in “Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is just as enjoyable.

Screenwriter/director Martin McDonagh, who also wrote and directed the enjoyable “Seven Psychopaths,” has a knack for making the grim and bizarre tender and often beautiful.

McDormand plays Mildred, a woman who grieves her daughter, whose killer still has not been arrested. Mildred is angry at nearly everyone, in particular local law enforcement.

So she lashes out by placing this message on three billboards:

“Raped While Dying.”

“And Still No Arrests.”

“How Come, Chief Willoughby?”

Willoughby is portrayed by Woody Harrelson, who feels sorry for Mildred and understands her animosity. Because Willoughby is quite ill from cancer, a lot of the townspeople think Mildred should leave him alone.

Most people, in fact, are not on Mildred’s side when it comes to the controversial billboards. A local priest visits Mildred’s home in an effort to persuade her to remove the signs.

One of her acquaintances (Peter Dinklage) is sympathetic … a little more than sympathetic, in fact. Conversely, the sometimes-brutal law-enforcement officer Dixon (the marvelous Sam Rockwell) will go to any lengths to get Mildred to back down. Her ex-husband even becomes violent.

In the meantime, unlikely friendships form. Mystery abounds. Violence erupts — and I mean cringe-worthy violence that could make you jump from your seat in its intensity. That’s part of the reason why this film earned its “R” rating. Its grittiness, pitch-dark humor and ambiguous finale make it a show that’s not for everybody.

But there isn’t a bad moment here for audiences who like their entertainment with an edge. McDormand is brilliant as the fiery Mildred, who smolders with fury at her daughter’s death and love for her son simultaneously. Hers is one of the finest performances of the year. At the very least, it deserves an Oscar nod.

Rockwell and Harrelson are terrific, too. Rockwell’s gives his complex, troubled character tremendous depth. Harrelson’s character truly loves his family and the town he serves, and it’s evident in his every gesture and conversation.

Hollywood has a tendency to release some of its finest films toward the end of the year so they won’t be forgotten come awards time.

Regardless of when you see this, you’re bound to remember it for a long time.


Film critic/reporter since 1985 at Quad-City Times. Society of Professional Journalists, Broadcast Film Critics Association and Alliance of Women Film Journalists member. Member of St. Mark Lutheran Church.