Susan (Amy Adams; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) is a successful artist living a pampered life with her philandering second husband, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer; The Lone Ranger). Susan is pretty resigned to her life until she receives a package from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal; Brokeback Mountain). Years earlier, Edward had decided to leave law school and pursue a career as a writer while he and Susan were still married. Unsuccessful in his pursuits, his lack of money and "ambition" led Susan to have an affair, abort Edward's child and leave him for Morrow.
The package contained Edward's soon to be published novel, dedicated to Susan. The story is that of a family- Tony (Gyllenhaal), Laura (Isla Fischer; Now You See Me) and their teenage daughter, India (Elli Bamber; Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), traveling in West Texas late at night who are stopped, harassed and abducted by some local guys. When those men rape and kill Laura and India, Tony works with Police investigator Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon; Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice) to bring the perpetrators to justice… sort of.
There is so much to say about this film I'm not sure where to begin. Well, let's start at the very uncomfortable beginning of the movie where Ford, purposely it seems, plants the seed to have one squirming in their seat from the opening moments. Other than the scene lasting too long, I think the visual was effective and definitely set a certain tone (I won't detail what that scene was but let the viewer discover it for themselves). From there, he cuts beautifully from reality to Edward's novel and the flow of the film is not affected or choppy at all.
Next, we have the cast. Adams is on fire this month with two great performances. Her Susan is almost teetering on the end of insanity as she reads the novel and remembers what she did to Edward and their unborn child. Gyllenhaal gives probably one of the best performances I have ever seen from him as the tortured souls of Edward and Tony both who have lost a child. Shannon taps into the bad guy persona he has played so well in the past, while conversely portraying a law enforcement officer in Texas out for justice ( or at the very least revenge). Supporting cast members Hammer, Bamber, Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Avengers: Age of Ultron), and Laura Linney (Sully) fill in the pieces beautifully. Ironically, Fischer's character is meant to symbolize Susan, which I find funny because so many in Hollywood feel she and Adams could be interchangeable.
Finally, the plot. With a fresh idea and a unique view, Ford writes a terrific screenplay that simply works and asks as many questions as it answers. The ending (which I won't give away) seems cruel, yet deserved, and upon exiting the theater, I heard someone wonder out loud if Susan made the whole story up in her mind and there really was no novel. With that thought in the back of my mind, I want to see the film again, which will probably change much of the perspective I had while watching it the first time.
With so many superheroes, action-packed movies erupting from Hollywood in the last few years, this is certainly a welcomed change and the fact the Ford got it completely right makes it even better. I felt a rollercoaster of emotions rather than sitting numb watching a lot of explosions and I left feeling very much alive. I simply have to sum up this review with two words: Oscar-worthy.