In a year of unusually strong roles for female actors (executed by Sally Hawkins in The Shape of Water, by Margot Robbie in I, Tonya and by the almost-inevitable Meryl Streep in The Post, as well as female leads in popular commercial movies like Star Wars: The Last Jedi and Wonder Woman) the arguable must-see performance for 2017 is Best-Picture nominee Frances McDormand in Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri.

Written and directed by Irish playwright Martin McDonagh and playing at the Salem Cinema, “Three Billboards” is a dark, comic crime drama about a mother in extremis who takes extraordinary action.

The story begins when McDormand’s Mildred Hayes, grieving and furious, has outraged messages painted on three aging billboards on the outskirts of the small town where she lives, in an attempt to shame local law enforcement officers who have produced no leads in her daughter’s rape and murder.

Why, six months after the crime, “still no arrests?” the billboards ask.

As Hayes, McDormand shifts gears through the movie’s scenes, interacting memorably with a strong ensemble cast including Woody Harrelson as the town’s dying sheriff and Sam Rockwell as his bigoted deputy.  Her Hayes is not always likable but always watchable and McDormand’s consistently riveting performance will be long remembered.

The film is for mature audiences, rated R for violence, language throughout and some sexual references. It has received critical acclaim as well as 7 nominations for Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Performance by an Actress in a Leading Role.

There are many reasons to see Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, but Frances McDormand’s exceptional turn as the complex, original and flinty anti-hero Mildred Hayes may be the most important.

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