It is Academy Awards contenders season and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is out tomorrow with great expectations. The film stars Frances McDormand, Sam Rockwell and Woody Harrelson. Martin McDonagh (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) directs.

Mildred Hayes (McDormand) wants justice. Months have passed since her daughter was brutally raped and murdered and there is still no clues. She decides to rent three Billboards just outside of her hometown of Ebbing, Missouri, to deliver an intense and controversial message directed at the authorities, thus turning the village upside down. It creates a confrontation with the people of Ebbing, especially with the assistant sheriff, Dixon (Sam Rockwell), an immature and violent man.

Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri is an open field for acting performances. Frances McDormand as a stubborn mother out for justice seems like a natural and she delivers with passion and conviction. We want to follow that mother in her quest. Sam Rockwell as a cop with troubled attitude, with the depth he can bring to a character, is a must. Many of his roles are played with very unusual range and it makes no exception here. That guy is a great actor. There is a tension holding back between the two, just waiting to explode.

Three Billboards, like numerous film these days, is constructed with a scheme that owes much to the Coen Brothers (beside McDormand, the director also borrows composer Carter Burwell ) and the good old films noirs. Situations delivered with a dark humor. The cinematic clever lines are there.  The vulgarity also. Hence, at times we feel there is a recipe and perceive the film for what it is: a quality avatar. But just an avatar. The general atmosphere is pretty interesting, but, screenplay-wise, the change in pace, the evolution of characters during the time period and the passage from drama to humor does not fully work or seal things together, mainly due to plot twists (that we won’t spoil) that are a bit hard to swallow. While the Coen Brothers seem to pass effortlessly from drama to humor in constructing a loony universe, it seems more difficult for most of their contemporary.

Ultimately, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri works because the cast does a tremendous and critical job of keep things going. It will probably be a serious contender and boost Oscar nominations for Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell.