by Tony Rutherford , HNN Entertainment Editor
FIRST LOOK: See one Movie in 2018, "Three Billboards...."

Black lives matter.

Blue lives matter.

White lives matter.

All lives matter. Or they should. Except for the presence of  PRE-justice. 

"Three Billboard Outside Ebbing, Missouri" brought whispers, not applause, from its audience. That's a sincere compliment. Writer/director/producer Martin ("Seven Psycopaths") McDonaugh delivered a new vision of "southern, small town" justice ("To Kill a Mockingbird"),  but he instilled more than the balancing scale, instead, the story examines each character's outer and inner personality. 

It' a must see.

FIRST LOOK: See one Movie in 2018, "Three Billboards...."

Simply, a young woman is raped while dying. No suspects. Mildred,  her mother,  played by Frances ("Fargo," "North Country", "Mississippi Burning," "Almost Famous" and "Blood Simple")  McDormand has a passion that the small town police officers have not investigated the murder properly. Knowing traditional sources of corruption often hidden under "discretion" decisions, she pays for posting on  three abandoned billboards near the location of her daughter Angela's  death --- "Raped while dying", "And still no arrests", and "How come, Chief Willoughby?"

As expected a war breaks out between the town's law enforcement officers, their supporters (most everyone) and Mildred Hayes. Symbolically, this absurd dark comedy crime thriller speaks beyond law enforcement decisions.

Ebbing, Missouri's small force has it's share of Barney Fife styled professionals. Officer James Dixon (Sam Rockwell) has anger management issues and drinks too much. He readily admits his racial prejudices, hunger for power, dependence on his mom for "ideas," and went through the academy five times before qualifying to be hired as an officer. 

Chief Sheriff Bill Willoughby (Woody Harrelson) shares anger from the signs. He tries to reason with Mildred. She shrugs that off (as well as the advice of a priest) with words that are not printable. Simply, a country club cover up is her determinations, especially as certain members of the department admit improper "beatings," while quoting "civil rights."

FIRST LOOK: See one Movie in 2018, "Three Billboards...."

As expected, power brokers turn up the fire surrounding Mildred one by one triggering her friends and relatives (or ex's) to wring her hands. 

"Three Billboards" would be a standard execution of vengeance ( "Death Wish," "Walking Tall," "Harper Valley P.T.A.") plot, except the script highlights glimpses of the buried, inner emotions of its characters. 

Hinting without spoiling, the hard faced, gravel voiced, non-smiling Mildred appears a concrete stone until you see her turn over an upside down roach and call 911 as soon as the Chief starts spitting blood (it's a well known secret that he has cancer).

FIRST LOOK: See one Movie in 2018, "Three Billboards...."

Already an Oscar ("Fargo"), Tony and Emmy winner, McDormand's crusade recalls the Academy Award winning performance of Sally Field, as Norma Rae, a union organizer at a southern textile plant. She's incredibly stone willed yet occasionally utters a phrase that pierces her armor. You see the grieving mom, her guilt (for what she said to Angela in their last argument), her strong spunk, and a hint of logic. 

Essentially, "Three Billboards" galvanizes the partial re-opening of Angela's murder case. It prompts hurt and violence all its own too. Mildred discovers that not everyone despises her. 

Supporting characters include her abusive ex-husband's scatter brained 19 year old girl friend Penelope (who works with disabled horses) , a dwarf car salesman, and an immature billboard salesman. 

The script casts subtle indictments for "institutions," from the "church" to "politics" to those that sit on the sidelines and either gossip or say nothing. What began as quirky trickster maneuvers slide to the ironies of jaded reality. 

One critic wrote:

FIRST LOOK: See one Movie in 2018, "Three Billboards...."

"The film is as dark as they come, a pitch-black, often laceratingly funny look at human nature at its most nasty, brutish and dimwitted."

Suffice that cleverness and wit shift to a study of human nature. What initially conceptualizes hope and hate leads to forgiveness and acceptance decisions.

As one victim of injustice viewing "Three Billboard" stated: You understand how one hate's a decision, but recognize that's not the full person. 

Kinda like, expressing strong opposition to political decisions, yet, recognizing the (for believers) commandment to pray for all. Or, perhaps, a journey through the stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance).

Earlier I mentioned a lot of increasing whispering among viewers as they exited the movie at Marquee Pullman Square: "McDormand is terrific," a woman vocalized,"she deserves an Oscar for the part."

FIRST LOOK: See one Movie in 2018, "Three Billboards...."

Just what I was scribbling in my notes. I'd go one step further --- this is (so far) the best picture of the year. Should it take Oscar home? I haven't seen Streep/Hanks in "The Post" ,yet, described as a historic weapon assaulting national politics. 

Still, McDormand, Sam Rockwell, writer/director McDonaugh, and the film have gathered an assembly of critic award nominations. They should do well  in the Golden Globe and Screen Actor's Guild contests. We'll have to anticipate whether it's a strong nomination buzz that leads to category wins.