Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” may not qualify as a feel-good film, but its blend of grief, fine performances, and dark comedy certainly make it a film worthy of attention. In his third outing, Irish writer/director Martin Mcdonagh (“In Bruges,” “Seven Psychopaths”) examines disruption in a small town as a mother seeks justice for her murdered daughter via three large billboards. Playing the grieving mother Mildred Hayes, Oscar, Emmy, and Tony Award winner, Frances Mcdormand, may once again find herself in the Academy Award mix.

A strong cast embodies divergent desires

The film opens on tough, foul-mouthed Mildred inquiring about restrictions on renting billboards outside of Ebbing. We come to realize soon thereafter that Mildred’s daughter was brutally raped and murdered some months back, and her heinous crime remains unsolved. Challenging the Chief of Police William Willoughby (an outstanding Woody Harrelson) on the three billboards, Mildred looks for justice in what just might be an unsolvable case. Although Willoughby, with issues of his own, understands Mildred’s plight, his second in command, the unstable Officer Dixon (Sam Rockwell), takes this challenge to the chief personally.

Events spiral out of control for Mildred, Willoughby, Dixon, and any others caught in Mildred’s orbit.

Filmmaker McDonagh posits why townspeople and the police would rather turn away from this ugly event than try to remember the victim, loved ones, and the quest to solve this criminal atrocity. It’s an accomplished filmmaker who can successfully walk such a thin line of suffering mixed with dark comedic sass.

McDormand’s unflinching brilliance as Mildred

Although the ensemble of Harrelson, Rockwell, Lucas Hedges as Mildred’s son, Peter Dinklage as a potential suitor and John Hawkes as Mildred’s ex, are strong, “Three Billboards” is McDormand’s film. Balancing a biting prickliness with authenticity, McDormand’s Mildred somehow gains the audience’s sympathy.

As McDonagh claims in his film’s press notes, “Mildred was someone strong, determined and raging, yet also broken inside.” McDormand adds, “With Mildred, I think you don’t always understand her behavior, but you never hate her, you don’t vilify her.” Mildred is a complicated character, yet always compelling.

McDonagh and Rockwell at AFI FILM FEST 2017

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” opens in theaters on Friday. But for those in Los Angeles, the AFI FILM FEST, kicking off November 9-16, will host “In Conversation” with writer/director McDonagh and Sam Rockwell who will discuss the film on November 14. It looks to be a rousing discussion.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” is 115 minutes, Rated R and opens in select cities November 10.