I was initially interested in this movie because I thought the trailer was funny and interesting. I became even more interested later, when I learned that it was written and directed by Martin McDonagh, who also wrote and directed Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges, both of which I have seen and liked.
The movie is about a woman who is very unhappy with the local police, who have seemingly dropped the ball on investigating the rape and murder of her daughter. She lives near three dilapidated billboards, and one day while driving by them, decides to hire an advertising agency to put up a message directed towards the local police chief, asking why there haven't been any arrests approximately seven months after it happened.
This move understandably sparks the ire of almost everyone in the town, and surprisingly pushes some characters to want to solve the case, and others to just get the woman to take down the billboard messages so they can forget the rape and murder ever happened and move on.
The film alternates between dark humor and scenes that made me want to cry (which has been the case in Seven Psychopaths and In Bruges, so if you like those, you'll like this too). The amount of guilt the woman feels for the rape and murder of her daughter is not fully expressed by her verbally, but you can see it on her face every time she is confronted by yet another person in the town who just wants the messages to go away.
In a flashback we learn that on the day of the murder, she had a fight with her daughter because she wouldn't let her daughter borrow her car, nor would she drive her daughter to her destination. Before her daughter left, her daughter told her that she hoped that she (the daughter) would get raped while walking, and she told her daughter that she hoped she got raped too. It is a heartbreaking situation, and the amount of guilt she felt was obvious to me.
The woman makes several bad decisions during the course of the movie, but the way that it is written, I still very much liked her and was rooting for her, even though I didn't agree with all of her decisions. I liked almost every character, and that, to me, is a sign of good writing. If the writer can present characters with flaws, but make me still really like the characters, then I know I'm in for a good story.
If you love this movie, you might also love:
In Bruges (2008)
The Big Lebowski (1998)
I don't feel at home in this world anymore (2017) (Netflix Instant)
The Nice Guys (2016)
Below, I've included information about film content (disturbing scenes, violence) and spoilers (spoilers are located at the very end).
Any disturbing scenes?
Yes. When the woman visits her dentist to get a tooth looked at, the dentist, who is one of the people in town who is angry at her for putting the billboards up, decides that he wants her to be in physical pain as payback for her actions. She takes the dental drill and puts a hole in his finger through his fingernail. In another scene, a local cop commits suicide and they show his head, which is covered up by a sack he made. It's a fairly bloody scene, but I didn't see any other gore besides blood.
Yes. There is quite a bit. One of the local cops beats a guy up and throws him through a window. The same local cop is burned very badly in a fire and later beaten up by two guys in a bar. One cop commits suicide (see disturbing scenes above for details). A woman throws molotov cocktails at a police station and it results in a man catching on fire. A man tries to choke a woman, and another man puts a knife to the man's throat. A woman kicks two teenagers in the crotch and they fall down.
The identity of the killer is never revealed to the audience. I could understand why the writer wanted to end the film that way, because it was a real ending to a lot of senseless crimes that happen in real life. It was frustrating to me at first, but I thought about it, and decided that the writer took me on a journey where I was side-by-side with the woman, and the movie drew out of me empathy for her and many of the other characters. If this was presented as her story, I could understand that if I were to believe in her fully, that I would have to believe that not everything in life is wrapped up in a neat bow, so her not finding out who killed her daughter was believable.
If you have any questions about this film, please feel free to ask.