Best Actress

Carey Mulligan
Promising Young Woman

There is twisted and then there is twisted. And as Promising Young Woman makes abundantly clear, nobody does twisted more convincingly than Carey Mulligan. The English actress is spellbinding as Cassie, a onetime overachiever who now, at the age of 30, is a walking psychic wound.

Mulligan, who made a name for herself in 2009’s An Education, has found a perfect vehicle for her talents. And in her bold and audacious directorial debut, the writer-director Emerald Fennell has found the perfect embodiment of her troubled heroine. Black as a moonless night and sharp as a fragment of glass, this lacerating thriller about female revenge (some might say empowerment) demands almost as much from its audience as it does from its central character.

Once, Cassie’s world held infinite possibility, but the summer after her first year at medical school she suffered a devastating personal loss when her best friend committed suicide after her accusations of rape were dismissed by a society that routinely blames the victim. Eight years later, Cassie’s grief remains just as raw, her rage just as unquenchable and her self-inflicted sense of guilt just as heavy. Her mission in life becomes about exposing and punishing male predatory behavior and those in society who allow it to continue. For a brief moment it appears she might be able to move on from the tragedy, but the moment passes.

The role demands an extraordinary emotional range and an ability to convey grief, outrage, vulnerability, cruelty and sensitivity in quicksilver succession — and often at the same time. Cassie is leading a double life and she proves to be a monumentally gifted master of disguise. The film’s ending is as shocking as it is clever, and Mulligan makes her character’s destructive and self-destructive behavior both clearly unhinged and completely understandable. Hers is a high-wire act performed without a net.

Jean Oppenheimer