Written and Directed By Tom Ford
Can we truly escape our own past actions, especially when they fill us with guilt? And just how heavy can guilt weigh on our conscience?
Tom Ford has crafted a very interesting film in his second outing after A Single Man, telling two stories at once, but not in the way we’ve come to expect from that type of work, where we tend to see two separate narratives converge in a finale that ties everything together. Here, the tales are connected from the beginning, but more thematically than anything else. The main character, Susan (Amy Adams), lives a fancy life inside the art world but has a dark past with her writer ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) that she has tried to escape. But when Edward sends her a manuscript of his novel after almost twenty years of silence, she is forced to confront herself while she reads the harrowing, emotional tale inside those pages.
The film is gorgeously shot and composed by Ford and his cinematographer Seamus McGarvey. The lighting is stark and definitive, accentuating the mood and actions on-screen. Ford is talented when it comes to using visual style to leave a mark on the audience, but in this case the message may be a bit muddled. What I took from this is that life is empty without love (which, for some, means family) and if someone strips that from you for selfish reasons, you are entitled to exact revenge. In the case of the novel, the physical action is street justice but the implication on the real world surrounding the novel is the emotional impact. Maybe if someone ruins you, you get to try your best to ruin them right back? And how interesting that Edward would choose to do this from the shadows and background, far removed from Susan (in the current timeline, they never share the screen). He always fought with the notion of being weak (and he bears his soul on that front with his portrayal as Tony, because as Edward says, “Everyone always writes about themselves”), and his attempt to get Susan back may speak to that very idea. Tony has help in the novel from a dying police officer (played expertly by the always incredible Michael Shannon), giving his character a source of strength when he can’t find any within himself. It may seem like a trope, but it makes perfect sense for Edward to write Tony this way because he wishes he could be that person.
Overall this is a very well-made film that gets pretentious and aims for more than it accomplishes, but I can’t pick apart anything from the acting, direction, sound or cinematography. I certainly enjoyed this, especially as someone who tries to see everything from Adams and Gyllenhaal, but it’s not something I’ll be racing to watch again.