Martin McDonagh’s (In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths) latest and most compassionate film tells the story of a frustrated mother (force of nature Frances McDormand) whose daughter was raped and murdered months ago, but there have as yet been no arrests.

She expresses her displeasure with the efforts of the local law enforcement, namely the well-liked Sheriff Willoughby (Woody Harrelson, solid) and the inept and violence-prone Deputy Dixon (Sam Rockwell, a career best), by mounting a controversial message to them on the title advertising spaces.

As this breathtakingly original story fluidly escalates and characters collide and evolve, the situation, tone and audience perceptions change at whiplash speed. It’s an impertinent yet serious examination of the destructive nature of anger vs. the redemptive effects of empathy. Its magic is that it’s much more fun than that previous sentence sounds.  

I’d be surprised if all three principal actors don’t get Oscar noms (not to mention a statuette for the film itself). The equally able supporting cast includes Abbie Cornish, Peter Dinklage (an excellent monologue), Caleb Landry Jones and John Hawkes. Gut-punches, guffaws, and surprises. It also stays with you, which is a film’s ultimate award.

You will not know where this darkly, even brutally funny movie is going. I haven’t been so jaw-droppingly engrossed in a film since Fargo. The fact that McDormand also drove that film is kind of fitting, as this caustic comedy brings McDonagh right up into the Coen Brothers’ league.