Directed by Tom Ford
Given his background, director Tom Ford’s second film is surprising in that it is not a case of style over substance – there isn’t anything too flashy for the most part, but much of the film has a subtle stylish quality to it, including the the cinematography and the use of colour. However the story is also fantastic; a gritty, violent thriller with a bit of dark humour thrown in for kicks.
It is clear from the start of the film that Susan, a successful art gallery owner, isn’t in a good place mentally. Christ, just look at the opening scene that accompanies the credits! She isn’t sleeping, she is losing faith in herself and her career, and possibly her marriage. It is also established quickly that she is financially well-off.
Without warning, a completed book is mailed to her by her ex-husband of 19 years, Edward, a man that she says she broke up with in a bad way. Cleverly, the film doesn’t show us what that was specifically, rather it uses the book to give us clues. The story Edward has written is a dark, violent and vengeful tale. Julie takes this personally, and it is hard not to see why when we begin to learn about the similarities in personality between the book’s protagonist, Tony, and Edward himself.
It is interesting to watch Susan’s reactions as she reads the story, with many close-up shots, especially her eyes, showing a lot more than she could ever say. The further into the story she reads, the more it affects her mental health. I love the idea of a story within a story, which is obviously not a new trend, but this film certainly offers a few twists on that formula.
What lingers in my mind is how the film slowly reveals itself. The film will occasionally flashback to a moment when Susan was with Edward, and at first the scene won’t make much sense. However, later into the film, an event or scene will explain that flashback, peeling away another layer of the story. These flashback scenes are handled perfectly; Jake Gyllenhaal even looks younger during these scenes, and without the heavy Texan accent he has within the confines of the book, there is no confusion. We always know where we are within the movie.
At first, I thought the ending was extremely premature. But after thinking about it for a bit, it makes perfect sense given the events that preceded it. This is a unique film to be certain, especially during the second and third acts. As for Amy Adams, this is two roles in a row that she has nailed, and each of those roles couldn’t be more different. She even looks very different here. Gyllenhaal doesn’t let us down, unsurprisingly, and Michael Shannon serves as a fine grumbly old detective whose idea of the law becomes slightly warped as the film rolls by.
Impressive, original and well-acted, there isn’t a film I can think of to compare this to – which is an infinitely good thing. Stylish when needed and gritty when it counts, this is a multi-faceted film that needs to be seen more than once. And as most of us know, the films you need to watch more than once often end up becoming favourites. The only niggles I have are some aspects of the script and screenplay – a lot of the humour fell flat, and some very tense scenes were undone by some very predictable action, as well as a script that is as sharp as a spoon. Still though, I sure as hell will be watching this one again soon to attempt to piece together this enthralling jigsaw.
Five beers out of a sixer. A second viewing will probably raise that score.
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