A teenage boy in 1960s Montana sees his family fracture when his father loses his job and leaves he and his mother at home to go fight wildfires.
Quiet Character Study;
Perfect Final Shot.
Here is a wonderful little film that will easily get lost in the end of year shuffle. While everyone is flocking to see the big movies Paul Dano has delivered a hushed arthouse gem in his directorial debut that will fly under a lot of radars until Oscar season when Carey Mulligan picks of a nomination and people set out to see for themselves. Hopefully by then it finds an audience, because it really is something to see.
Dano has produced something similar to many of his roles with this quiet powerhouse, always seemingly threatening to turn its quiet menace into explosive rage. It is not the first story about a teenager watching helplessly as the marriage of his parents falls apart due to their series of choices, but it still achieves a lot without ever feeling like it is going through the standard motions. Dano adds more layers of tension to this tale of a fractured family until it nearly boils over, but never loses sight of the fact that the story is told through the eyes of the son, so everything is seen with a filter of confusion and sadness. Dano and his cinematographer Diego Garcia frame things without frill, keeping the 1960s sensibilities consistent throughout but using a lot of slow zooms and pans to highlight this family slowly falling to pieces.
Carey Mulligan is an absolute knockout as Jeanette, a woman who realizes just how unsure she is of herself and her role within the family and unfairly takes her son Joe along for ride, forcing him to grow up too fast for his own good. There are multiple moments where it seems clear to everyone on screen that Joe is the most mature person in the room and the one with the noblest of intentions, trying his best to either hold his family together or make an attempt to reclaim its former glory. Gyllenhaal’s Jerry has his heart in the right place when he takes the job fighting wildfires in the mountains, but leaving his family with no timetable for a return is clearly the wrong choice and it becomes painfully obvious as his wife’s glossy veneer is stripped away piece by piece upon his departure. She begins to make appalling decisions that impact her family in big ways as she tries to find her own way in the time bordering women’s liberation. So while you understand what is driving her, you still can’t excuse her bahavior and it makes for a very compelling watch.
This is the kind of film that isn’t for everyone but will likely be deeply appreciated by everyone who finds it. If this is a sign of what is to come for Dano, I am fully on board after this remarkable debut.