Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri – 8.5

Martin McDonagh channels the Coen Brothers at their best – think Fargo and No Country for Old Men – in this small-town dramedy where the stakes are small but emotions are large. Every line of dialogue is fraught and measured, delivered to perfection by Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell, Woody Harrelson and an equally adept supporting cast. I was smiling throughout in this movie about a teenage girl who was set on fire and raped, and the juxtaposition never seemed awkward. Similarly, McDormand’s character was sympathetic and unforgivable at almost one and the same time. Like No Country, we aren’t told how the story ends, which also seems fine. There is a puzzle, though: how come the figure who must have been the rapist is cleared by the DNA evidence? If he’s not the rapist, the coincidences are just too great. McDormand, of course, is great and deserves an Oscar nod: she captures the screen just by thinking.

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