Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, Ed Oxenbould
Actor Paul Dano’s directorial debut is this sober, beautifully realised postwar American family drama, which he adapted with his off-screen partner, actress and screenwriter Zoe Kazan from the novel by Richard Ford.
14-year-old Joe (Ed Oxenbould) is the only child of Jeanette (Carey Mulligan) and Jerry Brinston (Jake Gyllenhaal) – a housewife and a golf pro living in a small town in ’60s Montana and on a kind of genteel middle-class poverty line, existing from pay cheque to pay cheque. Nearby, an uncontrolled forest fire rages close to the Canadian border, and when the Jerry loses his job (and along with it, his sense of purpose) he decides to go and help fight it, leaving his wife and son to fend for themselves. Suddenly forced into a more adult role, Joe witnesses his mother struggle to keep her head above water; then her subsequent courage in considering new directions.
It’s really exquisite to look at – a triumph for production designer Akin McKenzie and cinematographer Diego Garcia – and meticulously performed, with Mulligan and Gyllenhaal layering their characters with wit, sadness, maturity and painful emotional scars. Both an austere evocation of small town mid-century America and a timeless portrait of damaged lives, it all adds up to a very impressive directorial debut that is already generating glowing reviews.