Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ★★★★

Martin McDonagh doesn't really care much about traditional story telling requirements. His stories, like his characters, unfold in shabby, unrehearsed, impolitic ways. This dynamic plays a major role in why his films and his characters are so compelling. His cinematic realism is a realism of emotion (anger and the desire for understanding in this instance), the unpredictability of behavior and the arhythmia of life's moments.

The story -- with which I had some problems, especially the third act and ending -- is not complex but it is difficult. The film, though, is buoyed by superb performances by Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Peter Dinklage. McDonagh's background as a playwright is clear by the smallness of the worlds he creates. There are about 4-6 people who we need to follow. They only seem to know each other. Their worlds seem tightly connected. Set against the backdrop of the expansive prairies and rolling hills of Missouri, this makes for another compelling aspect of the film -- the grandness of the environment, the largeness of the moral questions at its center, and the smallness of the town, the particular individual motivations for why each character does what he/she does.

McDonagh can turn on a dime between comedy and tragedy. That experiences can sometimes be jarring. At times, like when Chief Willoughby coughs and changes the tone of a scene, this is a compelling story telling device. But in larger tonal changes, this film is less sure of itself.