Tom Ford follows up to the impressive 2009 A Single Man with his second directorial feature, this time taking on a thriller. When art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), as she reads page by page she begins to become haunted by the violence and misery, interpreting the book as a symbol of revenge. Also starring Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborogh and Michael Sheen.
The most successful element of this film is the acting talent, each and every one of those involved was a good choice, no matter how little their involvement is they each perform well. Of course Adams and Gyllenhaal are at the forefront of that but there’s simply just a lot more asked of Gyllenhaal which gives him the opportunity to really give a strong portrayal as both ex-husband Edward and father in the story, Tony although the latter is miles more interesting. Adams does well but feels as though her performance has been restricted by Ford’s intentions for the appearance of the film; the make-up and hair, costumes and even her physical actions all give the demeanour of someone stylish, harsh and modern, which is visually great but limits her acting opportunity. Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson both stand out, the former because he’s possibly the most interesting character and because Shannon is one of those actors who excels no matter what film or role it is; the latter because he’s playing a role that’s far removed from what we’ve seen of him, as well as from himself in real life, a southern accent and hillbilly personality which credit to him is surprisingly convincing.
Moving on however, to the elements of the film that are not successful, one main major issue is that using a story within a story, you need the two to run side by side, to be able to go back and forth without confusion and technically they’ve achieved that but what they’ve also managed to do, is to completely eclipse the main story with the book, making it feel aimless. The consequence of that is despite the ambience and the visual style being dark, cold and modern, there’s little to no tension or suspense, the thriller nature of the film gives way to something much less threatening. There’s also multiple elements to the film that feel random and unrelated, as well as those that just raise unanswered questions to the point of simply not making sense. The look of the film, as mentioned is great, which is clearly where Ford succeeds, with the help of cinematographer Seamus McGarvey but it prevents the film from being at all grounded, it lives in the realm of the art world, in other words, pretentious and misses the opportunity to have a sense of something real and gritty, even the more violent elements of the story are done in a way to limit the fear by being simply too clean cut.
With an opening that extends slightly too long and will make some viewers uncomfortable and the rest which simply does not live up to what it has offered, it’s a real disappointment. The darkness you’d expect from this film comes only from it’s visual style, a fantastically done style but it does not do justice to the story. The suspense and tension that should be playing havoc with the audience doesn’t hit the mark and leaves you following a plot that feels as though it’s a journey to nowhere, the story within the story turns out to be more satisfying to watch.