“Last night I caught a test screening of Martin McDonagh‘s Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri,” reports a Los Angeles-based HE reader. “It stars Frances McDormand as Mildred Hayes, an antique-shop owner, and it’s basically about the fact that months before the film’s events McDormand’s daughter was viciously raped and murdered. There’s been no news about the case in a long time and no arrests, and Mildred has begun to feel that authorities may be dropping the ball.

“So she rents out three billboards leading into town and puts up an advertisement that says something along the lines of ‘Why aren’t the cops doing more to catch the guilty?’ and singles out the police chief (played by Woody Harrelson). The police are of course riled about being called out like this (the rest of the town, including Mildred’s son, also think that the billboards are taking it too far), and so begins an interesting battle of wits between Mildred and the police department.

“I didn’t care for Seven Psychopaths much at all, but I really liked In Bruges. I think this film is on par with the latter quality-wise — it’s an incredibly smart, dark comedy with a great script.

“My favorite performance was Sam Rockwell’s, who plays a dim-witted, racist policeman with serious anger issues. He has a very interesting arc, as well as some of the funniest moments in the entire movie. Outside of McDormand, Harrelson and Rockwell, the rest of the cast doesn’t have more than a few scenes each. Peter Dinklage plays a guy who really wants to sleep with Mildred, John Hawkes pops up as Mildred’s ex-husband, Lucas Hedges plays Mildred’s son, and Caleb Landry Jones has a few good scenes.

“The screening was at the Westside Pavillion Landmark. I saw McDonagh chatting with his friends as I left. Fox Searchlight will probably laumch it during next year’s fall festivals (probably Toronto, since Seven Psychopaths played there) and come out in the fall.”