American Woman

Yes, I am a natural blonde!
Verdict: 
8/10 - Sienna Miller delivers a powerful character study in Jake Scott's American Woman.
Release Date: 
Thursday, October 10, 2019
Written by: 

American Woman follows Debra Callahan (Sienna Miller), a woman who is forced to raise her young grandson after her daughter goes missing.

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In recent years, Sienna Miller has landed parts in a string of dramatic films, including Live by Night, American Sniper and Foxcatcher.

But it may be her latest feature, American Woman, which finally cements her status as a versatile Hollywood star.

Directed by Jake Scott (son of Ridley Scott), the movie tells the story of Debra Callahan, as played by Miller - a 32-year-old single mother who lives in rural, blue-collar Pennsylvania in the early 2000s along with her daughter Bridget (Sky Ferreira), as well as Bridget's baby son Jesse.

However, when Bridget fails to return home one evening after going out with her on-and-off boyfriend Tyler Hanrick (Alex Neustaedter), Debra figures something is wrong and instantly alerts the police, with it quickly apparent that her teenager has vanished without a trace.

Told over the course of 11 years, screenwriter Brad Ingelsby's narrative is more or less divided into three acts,

The first part follows the distraught Debra as she slowly comes to terms with the situation, while relying on the support of her sister Katherine (Christina Hendricks), brother-in-law Terry (Will Sasso), and conservative mother Peggy (Amy Madigan).

In spite of an investigation by Detective Sergeant Morris (E. Roger Mitchell), there are no obvious suspects, causing Deb to place blame on Tyler, who she claims attacked Bridget in the past.

And while American Woman is about a woman looking for her missing child, Ingelsby interestingly chooses to focus the rest of the plot on the way the central character navigates the trials and tribulations of her home life, including her relationship with her grandson, physically abusive boyfriend Ray (Pat Healy), and later marriage to Chris (Aaron Paul).

 

The story certainly delves into some pretty heavy topics, such as dysfunctional family units, motherhood, grief, drug abuse, domestic violence, infidelity, and forgiveness, with the entire cast putting in committed performances.

Yet, it is Miller who really displays her acting chops, mastering an American accent and perfectly slipping into costume designer Alex Bovaird's skimpy outfits and heavy 2000s make-up.

Throughout Deb's journey, the 37-year-old manages to convey the complex character's fear and anguish, whilst constantly displaying a determined streak, perhaps no better evidenced than in a scene in which she angrily confronts Tyler in front of his mother.

Miller and Hendricks have a nice rapport onscreen too, with the former Mad Men actress nailing the exasperation her character would feel in the face of her younger sister's reckless and volatile behaviour.

The main story is enhanced by cinematographer John Mathieson's careful framing, while Adam Wiltzie uses the right amount of restraint with the music.

There's no doubt American Woman is a hard watch at times. But Miller certainly delivers a powerful character study, with her quiet moments of transformation and Scott's careful handling of the various plot threads leading to a well-constructed and thoughtful conclusion.

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