Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a highly successful art dealer living in an opulent modernist mansion with her cold, contemptuous, handsome husband Hutton (Armie Hammer).
Susan is utterly miserable, despite and because of her luxurious, hollow surroundings.
She has lost her love of art and has married a creep – in place of her sensitive and passionate writer ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she left years earlier “in a brutal way”.
A package arrives from Edward containing the manuscript of a horrifying and desperately sad novel, dedicated to Susan. In it, a family of three is run off the road in rural Texas by a gang of thugs, with awful consequences.
The menacing, manic leader of the gang, Ray, is played by English actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who gives a magnificent and disturbing performance, reminiscent of a humanised, redneck version of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.
Gyllenhaal also gives a brilliant, raw performance as the terrified father in the novel, Tony, who embodies the author’s masculine weakness, courage and regret.
The story-within-a-story is a Hitchcock-like case study in tension.
The horror of the novel leaks into Susan’s lonely and meaningless present-day existence, with flashbacks to the birth, life and death of her first marriage.
An excellent score by Polish composer Abel Korzeniowski helps weave the ostensibly disparate stories into a single, devastating narrative of wasted love and wasted life.
Emotionally crippling, visually stunning and brilliantly cast – this is a truly great film.
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