The second feature from writer/director Tom Ford opens with shots of morbidly obese women dancing full-screen naked. It is repulsive – even in the context of their being ‘exhibits’ in an ultra-hip Los Angeles art gallery.
The scathing comment on elitist wankery is fair enough, but the grotesquerie of the sight overwhelms Ford’s ire. Fortunately, the drama that unfolds soon casts it from your mind. Ford uses the unusual device of having the story developed as a sort of metaphor through the pages of a book being read by his female protagonist, Susan (Amy Adams), the gallery owner.
‘Devastated’ by what unfolds on the page, does she understand that it could be inspired by her broken marriage? Susan has received the manuscript from her first husband, Andrew (Jake Gyllenhaal). She becomes absorbed by it, poring over it in her stylish sterile Beverley Hills palazzo of raw concrete and sheet glass, while her second husband (Armie Hammer) is checking into a New York suite with another woman. It’s what Andrew has written – a taut, psycho-sexual thriller – that focuses your attention. So much so that on a couple of occasions I had to remind myself that it was not the ‘real’ story, mainly because it is Gyllenhaal who also plays Tony, the central character – the ‘first person’ of Andrew’s novel. Driven off the road by a group of greasy yahoos one night on a deserted highway, Tony is left bashed and bleeding after his wife and daughter are abducted.
Bobby (Michael Shannon), a chain-smoking Texas cop, works the case for Tony – and he has his own reason for wanting to mete out rough justice to the thugs. Susan takes it all in, never suspecting where it might end.
A nasty but enthralling tale that delves into a headspace that most of us would be reluctant to admit we recognise. Gyllenhaal and Adams are always good, but Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnston as the gang leader (a long way from his Vronsky in 2012’s Anna Karenina) are fantastic.