Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri ★★★★☆

Venice has recently taken back the international spotlight, reclaiming for Europe an increasingly pressurised slot in the autumn calendar against the threat of more upstart American jamborees in Toronto and Telluride.

One of the instrumental tactics has been to showcase the films that then go on to be major figures in the “awards conversation”, film that everyone talks about all the way up to the Oscars next March.

Martin McDonagh’s fire-cracker black comedy should be right up there. Certainly the screenplay from this lauded playwright (whose previous movies include In Bruges) zings with gags and grandstanding speeches, a couple of which received rounds of applause from the audiences here. When you get great dialogue delivered by actors of the stature of Frances McDormand and Sam Rockwell, you have to sit back and admire and wait til the Oscar nods roll in.

That strange title stems from the actions of McDormand’s character, Mildred Hayes, who pays for three roadside billboards to be erected on the way into the small town, alerting townsfolk and passers-through to the fact that the awful murder and rape of her daughter still has not been solved by the local police chief Willoughby (superbly played by Woody Harrelson).

What ensues is a cascade of violence and recrimination that McDonagh manages to play for surreal laughs and dark violence. You’ll be reminded of the Coens, particularly of Fargo, but there’s a gleeful mischief at play throughout, a film about revenge and hate spiralling until you think it might never stop.

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