The name of the Movie features three inanimate objects in a sleepy town nobody's heard of. Doesn't sound like the beginning of a transcendent film. Get beyond the soporific title, because the film is anything but stolid. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" takes a small town problem and magnifies it to an electrifying degree. There's never a clear line between right and wrong, upsetting and vindicating. It all makes for one of the best movies of the year.

About 'Three Billboards'

"Three Billboards" is a black comedy-drama film. Martin McDonagh ("In Bruges") served as the director.

The film was first released on November 10, 2017, and gradually increased the number of screens it appeared on from there.

Mildred Hayes is still devastated and wracked by guilt over the disturbing death of her daughter in a small Missouri town. A police investigation into the matter goes nowhere, so she leases three billboards criticizing the police department and the chief of that department. The chief's medical problems complicate that matter, as does the circumstances surrounding the death and a bigoted policeman who feels strongly about the subject. Nothing is black and white in this town, though, and tragedy knows no town boundary.

A dive into Ebbing

Ebbing, Missouri is not a real town.

It's just a fictionalized composite of what a small town in America looks like today. Its location in Missouri actually makes Ferguson come to mind. There is both racial tension and attempts at racial healing, suspect police work, the influence of the church, and a downtown that serves as the heart of the city. Each character builds upon the character of the city to create a vibrant setting for the movie.

As the title dictates, however, the movie is centered on three billboards that exist outside Ebbing, Missouri. The reveal of those billboards may be the best sequence of the film. Without spoiling too much, it happens rather slowly and in reverse order, creating an incredulous feeling for the cop who comes upon them. It's a quick way to grip the audience without insulting them.

Frances McDormand may very well be on her way to her second Oscar win (to go along with her Emmy and Tony). As Mildred Hayes, she's both uncompromising and unadulterated. She isn't afraid to challenge anyone, but does so with very little emotion on her face, having been drained from the death of her daughter. She's a sympathetic character, but not necessarily the film's hero, considering her flaws in regard to revenge and comments she made to her own family that compromised her emotions forever.

While she is the runaway star of the film, the target of the three billboards deserves some credit for a nuanced performance as well. Woody Harrelson doesn't play like the typical "bad guy" chief. He's a family man and a dedicated civil servant who feels indisposed by Mildred's actions, but not attacked.

He wants justice as well, he just can't figure out how to get it. At the end of the day, however, Chief Willoughby is in her corner.

Sam Rockwell ("Moon") also gives a strong performance. His character starts off as uncompromisingly bad and bigoted, despite being a member of the force. Perhaps more than any other character, the development into someone different and new begins when he realizes his destiny is to solve the incident foretold in the three billboards, not to protect the police at all costs. Officer Dixon is the story's true redemptive character.

Most of the supporting cast fulfills their roles in a similar way. Peter Dinklage ("Game of Thrones") is arguably the town's one good guy as James.

Lucas Hedges (more on him in a moment) plays Mildred's depressed and bullied son. Caleb Landry Jones ("Get Out") plays the morally ambiguous advertising man who ultimately puts up the billboards.

The only disappointing performance came from Abbie Cornish. She wasn't asked to do much as Chief Willoughby's wife, but keeping a consistent accent was too much to ask.

Similar film to...

Hedges just has a way with picking his movies, despite his youth. In a lot of ways, "Three Billboards" is reminiscent of one of 2016's great films, "Manchester By the Sea." Both feature broken characters who serve as the protagonist. Both of those characters were not there for their family when they needed to be. Both films fail to reach the happy ending everyone desperately craves.

And for whatever reason, both films feature Lucas Hedges. "Three Billboards" deserves to meet a better fate at the Academy Awards, though.

Final thoughts

"Three Billboards" does more than inspire mixed emotions toward characters and society. It forces viewers to ask questions of themselves. Am I a good person? What even makes a good person? How far am I willing to go in my fight for justice? Or revenge? Redemption?

The biggest compliment a movie can be paid these days is that it stays with you for days, even weeks after you exit the theater. In an age where effects take precedence over plot and character development, that doesn't happen often. "Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri" has haunting performances that will leave viewers in disarray for some sleepless nights.

Grade: A.