Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB. USA, 2016. Focus Features, Fade To Black Productions, Artina Films, Perfect World Pictures. Screenplay by Tom Ford, based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. Cinematography by Seamus McGarvey. Produced by Tom Ford, Robert Salerno. Music by Abel Korzeniowski. Production Design by Shane Valentino. Costume Design by Arianne Phillips. Film Editing by Joan Sobel. Academy Awards 2016. Golden Globe Awards 2016. Toronto International Film Festival 2016.
Amy Adams plays a successful, perfectly coiffed Los Angeles art gallery owner whose relationship with husband Armie Hammer has cooled. She receives a package in the mail from her first husband that turns out to be the galleys of his soon-to-be published novel, a violent and disturbing tale of brutal, feral machismo pitted against passive, intellectual masculinity in the vein of Sam Peckinpah’s Straw Dogs. We watch the written tale unfold regularly between shots of Adams’ life: the story is of a couple (Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher) and their daughter who are sideswiped on a dark Texan highway by three trashy bad guys (led by Aaron Taylor Johnson) who put them through pure, unadulerated hell before Gyllenhaal enlists a sherriff (a wonderful Michael Shannon) to bring about justice for what he has suffered. As time progresses and we get a few glimpses to Adams’ past with her author ex, we come to understand the novel as an externalization of their past relationship and the disappointments they endured, with a little of his own retribution thrown in for her past sins. Tom Ford directs a smart and invigorating film whose sets are as ravishing to look at as are many members of its cast; Johnson somehow manages to give a menacing and frightening performance despite Ford always filming him to favour his ripest physical attributes (I don’t know when the last time was that someone looked that gorgeous while taking a shit outdoors, but there you have it). The film has a lot of energy and style, but despite all its violence it never really bleeds: the demons freed by the fictional are from a relationship whose figures never make enough of an impression, while Peckinpah’s exploration of man’s inner beast is more much more effective for how much it implicates the viewer in its amorality. The highway hold-up is the film’s best scene, while Laura Linney does her finest film work in years in a superb scene as Adams’ exacting mother.