Dark comedies tend to be a challenging genre to master. Every piece has to have a delicate balance; writing has to be sharp and funny, the story has to be swift moving and clever, and the actors need to harness the director’s vision and become the characters intended.

“Three Billboards” successfully manages to deliver on the promise of its darkness and humor, and after two hours, there is a guilty pleasure sickness in the pit of your stomach, a satisfying resolution to a horrendous series of events, brilliantly conveyed by a stellar group of veteran actors.

The most quirky-titled film of the year takes the screen by storm. It starts slowly and calmly with Mildred (Frances McDormand) contemplating an idea that will forever change the sleepy town of Ebbing, Missouri. She channels her anger, frustration and sorrow of losing her daughter to a violent and unsolved murder into renting three billboards, where she sends a message to the chief of police that fires up the department and the residents of the small community. Mildred stands firm, displaying a nothing-to-lose bereaving mother, the vilified, underdog protagonist that evokes conflicted allegiances.

Martin McDonagh (“In Bruges,” “Seven Psychopaths”) could have written a story about just about anything and achieved the same effect. Three billboards being such an innocuous set of objects, it’s the cast and the morbid humor that strikes the audience like a frying pan to the face. His ability to move a narrative in entertaining, original and unexpected ways harkens some of the Coen Brothers’ best work (“Fargo”). He is certainly a writer/director to keep a keen eye on, with this film likely earning him more Oscar nominations.

Frances McDormand is spectacular. A surefire Best Actress nominee, she emerges as a frontrunner for now, but she has unusually stiff competition this year, with highly anticipated performances by Jessica Chastain, Sally Hawkins, Saoirse Ronan, Margot Robbie and perennial stalwart Meryl Streep.

Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell are truly the soul of the film as much as McDormand is the heart. They carry the ironically lovable antagonist roles as the police chief Willoughby and his bumbling Barney Fife deputy, Dixon. Their relationship is a thing of cinematic beauty, and they each support McDormand’s character in near-perfect fashion. Willoughby is a good man, and he’s a good police chief, but he is bound by the same constraints of law that infuriate Mildred. Dixon, on the other hand, is irreverent, inappropriate, unprofessional and highly entertaining. I’ve been a fan of Sam Rockwell for decades, and he will finally get his Oscar nomination after nearly 100 film roles.

Lucas Hedges (Mildred’s son, Robbie) is one of my favorite young actors in the game today. After a star-making turn in last year’s “Manchester by the Sea” and a strong supporting role in this year’s other independent film darling, “Lady Bird,” I foresee great things in his future.

“Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri” isn’t a film that will appeal to all. You have to have a very dark sense of humor to truly appreciate the film’s message, which may be interpreted in different ways depending on your level of optimism. But isn’t that the impact of a truly great cinematic experience? The layers of humanity and emotion are much deeper than the film appears to contain on the surface. You’ll become conflicted, because every character demands your empathy and respect, no matter how vile. This is one of the best films of the year, unlikely to be bumped from my 2017 top five.