Despite a second half that gradually devolves into an over-plotted, almost forced, collection of scenes and dynamics, "Three Billboards" succeeds on its first half alone, telling a very R-rated, very funny, and very tragic tale of one mother's search for justice at the cost of almost completely losing herself in it. Frances McDormand gives a career-best performances as the mother hardened by grieving, regret, and the all the messiness of life in-between that her gaunt face tells us she's really lived. Woody Harrelson is also scary-good and likable as the small-town sheriff standing between the mom and what she wants.
And while the film more than implies a payoff to her search, setting up a potential culprit and unlikely pairing of characters en route to deliver that a-hole's comeuppance, it wisely never delivers that resolution. Because that's what a lesser movie would do, one more concerned with a fourth-act revenge plot instead of "Three Billboards'" more honest take on how life, especially when it concerns the unresolved loss of a loved one, is unfair. It's all about the journey here, chronicling the price that vendetta -- that need to find solace in why and how and who -- has on those willing to take on, and be surprised by, the path they let it take them on.