2016 – USA
Director – Tom Ford
Starring – Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor‑Johnson, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer
Words – C. Abbott
There is a moment in Tom Ford’s second feature that is something of a reflection on the narrative itself. Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is sent a draft of a novel from her ex-husband Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), to which it shares the film’s title. She is horrified and devastated by it, and when asked she describes it as “Violent and it’s sad – and he dedicated it to me.”
The same could be said about the film as a whole, it’s brutal, emotionally draining and uncomfortably intimate. From the very opening shot we’re grabbed by the ears and shouted at that this will be an excruciating affair. After his phenomenal breakout effort in A Single Man, Ford builds on what that film started. He comes from a background of fashion design and brings that expertise to film in a beautiful way. His films are some of the most stylish looking pieces in recent memory yet this isn’t an example of all style no substance. The narrative here is layered and complex, emotional nuance is something A Single Man dealt with elegantly. Greif, regret, love and loss are all themes brought up there, they are ever present but instead of being looked at through the eyes of sadness, this time through vengeance. People can do cruel things, and cruelty encapsulates each character and action. Nothing is gratuitous though, nor graphic but rather the mental image of pain that is painted in our minds causes the real discomfort.
It isn’t just Ford’s work that keeps the film in check, but the performances too. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are two of the finest actors working today and here they are at career best performances. Secondary roles from Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor Johnson match the work on screen. Everyone is bringing their all into this film and the meticulous craft of the production bring this towards the top end of films released this year.