A mother cannot let a police department rest until the murderer of her daughter is brought to justice. What we see the mother do: erect three billboards accusing the police chief of not doing enough, her daughter raped while dying. What we see the police chief do: let his office with a bunch of stupid cops loiter over the file as the trail grows cold.
There is a lot of fire in this movie. The girl is burnt to death in a car. The billboards are set aflame. The police station is attacked with molotov cocktails. A policeman is encased in flames as he runs out of the burning building.
But this is a movie, so the only one who stays dead or injured (with one acute surprising exception) is the girl who sets the plot in motion, the daughter, whose murder the mother means to avenge. The fires are almost biblical, a sign of the anger the characters feel at the injustice of it all.
France McDormand (Mildred) plays angry, clear eyed, vindictive. She knows what she wants, but cannot get it the way she goes about it here. Woody Harrelson playing Willoughby the police chief, married to a woman with an English accent (Abbie Cornish), so much younger, with two adorable daughters, strained credibility.. So much sudden violence in contrast with the idyllic family of the police chief, interspersed with the near imbecility of the policeman whose story this really is, makes for a very dark story.
Because it is the racist cop Dixon’s (Sam Rockwell) awakening, after reading a letter from a dead man, that makes the story move forward. Up until then it is revenge porn and characteristic McDonagh dialogue, full of snap and bristling with truth about the human condition. (Example: ” But he’s dying!” “We’re all dying!”)
The fine acting could not overcome the deep depression this movie left me with: that Hollywood movies depict small towns as repositories of stupid people, unwilling or not able to do their jobs; that violence sudden and graphic is what we want to experience in the theater (I had to to cover my eyes at times but wish I could have covered my ears as well, as several heads were kicked in). It just left me in a very bad mood. Sam Rockwell, Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson, Abbie Cornish, perform their parts perfectly. McDonagh has written another screenplay that features dwarves who are constantly referred to as midgets to prove how ignorant and cruel Americans are. Peter Dinklage deserves better than this. We all deserve better than this.