A successful Los Angeles art-gallery owner named Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has an idyllic life and is married to her constantly traveling second husband named Walker (Armie Hammer). While he is away, she is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a teacher named Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to examine her past and confront some dark truths.
This is another big one but living where I do, I don’t get to see it until now. It has gotten a lot of buzz since its release. I can see it but I’m not quite there. I haven’t seen fashion designer Tom Ford’s only other film “A Single Man” so I am fascinated by that fact. He makes clothes look good and he surprisingly makes films look good too (of course he’s not alone in that).
Susan is successful yet lonely gallery owner who is taken aback when she receives a manuscript written by her husband Edward who she hasn’t seen in years. She is lonely because her current husband Walker is always travelling and is never home. This loneliness drives her to read Edward’s book. The plot is told in three concurrent parts where we see the story from Edward’s book come to life, the beginning and end of Susan and Edward’s relationship, and we follow Susan living her current life.
Susan is feeling inadequate with her life as an artist and started to doubt herself and her ability. Walker’s constant absences also led her to start thinking about Edward. Not too long after, she received his book. As she was reading is taken aback from the story in its darkness. The film contrasts this with the flashbacks of Susan and Edward with the version of himself that he depicted in his book. Both versions of Edward start off the same and then eventually become the person(s) he should’ve been/wanted to be with her. Through the book, she sees the parallels between it and their relationship and thus begins to see Edward in a different light, leading to a twist ending. This aspect was not as impactful as the Susan and Edward’s relationship, their flashbacks, and her current state were not as developed as they should have been.
The connection with the rest of the plot isn’t the strongest but the most compelling part of the film has to be the story from Edward’s book. The book is about a teacher named Tony who loses his family under unfortunate circumstances during a trip. He and his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are driving down the interstate when they are forced off the highway by a man named Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his friends Lou (Karl Glusman) and Turk (Robert Aramayo). During that ordeal, they manage to kidnap Laura and India and leave Tony stranded in the middle of the desert.
Once Tony manages to find his way back to civilization, he teams up with a sheriff named Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon). The two quickly find Laura and India raped, murdered, and dumped near a vacant trailer, leaving Tony crushed. Andes dedicates himself to Tony’s case, not wanting to let anyone get away with it. We quickly see that being an old school Texas sheriff, Andes has a much different way of doing things. He allows Tony to be involved in the investigation which tests him and the lengths he was willing to go in order to get justice for his family. Andes being already morally-flexible, the fact that he was already dying just made things easier for him as he had nothing to lose. This was when we got to see Tony become the strong person that Edward wanted to or should have been with Susan.
Again, this was a beautiful film to watch from beginning to end. One of the ways in which the film utilized this was to distinguish between storylines and locales. In Susan’s storylines, things looked cleaner and more aesthetically pleasing. The color of her clothing would also change with her mood, following the film looking darker as the story got darker. Just like Tony’s storyline, things look darker and more gritty. They inhabit two different worlds but the film captured a great amount of detail in both. The score aided the cinematography in adequately capturing the mood of the scene.
The plot may not have been completely there but the acting was the best part of the film. Adams didn’t have to do much heavy lifting here in more of an understated performance as most of her scenes involved her laying back and reading. She was excellent at conveying Susan’s many emotions through a series of facial expressions. Gyllenhaal was good as Edward but it was much better as Tony. His progression as a character was compelling to watch, showing a considerable range of emotions as he became stronger while becoming unhinged after his family’s murder. The real standout here was Shannon as Andes. Similar to that of Jeff Bridges in Hell or High Water, Andes stole many scenes with his serious deadpan delivery. He was able to show a serious side, a vulnerable side, and a comedic side whenever necessary.
Overall, this was a commendable, beautiful thriller with each of its storylines not quite fitting together as well as they should have, and features great performances by Adams, Gyllenhaal, and Shannon.
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