Sunday, November 13, 2016


Nude obese women writhe and gyrate against a red background. In slow motion we can see every square centimetre of excessive flesh. Are we being invited to judge them? Once the credits have passed the final directorial byline we roll back and see that this is a backdrop for an exhibition. Young, slim and beautiful Los Angelenes mill around risers bearing either the women from the projections or latex sculptures of them, a kind of Patricia Piccinini confrontation.There are many viewers but this is an exhibition opening and they're not looking at the art they are looking at each other. In their midst sits a detached Amy Adams as Susan using her expertly expressive face to tell us that her mind is elsewhere.

Later, back home she confronts her husband for not turning up to the opening and gets a generic response about work demands. The dinner party they go to mixes talk of genital frankness with anodyne life advice. Husband absconds to New York halfway through and Susan is again left in her world of architect interiors, affectless conversations, like a feature in one of its many artworks. But she is haunted. She has received an envelope containing the manuscript of a novel written by her first husband and dedicated to her. It is a crime thriller, heavy on the violence and a theme of revenge.

From this point we will weave in and out of a cinematic realisation of the novel, the cold emotionless world of Susan's L.A. and a play-through of how she met author and ex Edward and how they parted ways. This weave will progressively tighten until united by the pattern they are part of and the final blow can be administered.

Tom Ford has created a work of impressive design here. Present-day Susan might be lodged into the scarlet of her past with Edward or lost at a work meeting in a white infinity. Crime victims are juxtaposed with the posed bodies of the living in different timelines. From the perfect architecture of the present day to the dust of the novel's Texas setting to the New York winter wonderland of the recalled romance we are given easy cues to orientate us in the complex structure which readies us for the grip and weight of the climax. It is heavily designed but if that term brings images of Peter Greenaway's tableaux vivant it shouldn't. This is cinema by industrial design a seamless mesh of form and function.

And Ford has assembled a cast of some of the most compelling talents of the last fifteen years. Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams can be watched closely in anything and there is even a scene in which these two gorgeously screen-filling heads actually do fill the screen and it is a delight. But there's also the wizened Texas detective by the great new heavy on the block Michael Shannon. Aaron Taylor Johnson, so impressive in Kickass and Nowhere Boy lives in his unwashed redneck chaos. Laura Linney appears as a queen bitch mother and even Armie Hammer as a trophy husband letting go of his marriage impresses. So, why didn't I care about this film?

The design is heavily draped, yes, but it is inventive rather than cloying. The cast is stellar. But the characters are almost all repugnant. The hand of craft that felt it needed the colour of the weave perfectly in line with the place of each thread in the scheme did its job so well that we cannot feel anything for these people more than to admire their expert incorporation into the pattern. Even the potentially humanising failings of Edward as a shapeless lost would be novelist and Susan who recognises art but knows she can never create it just carry them into preciousness rather than despair.

The sense that no one is really losing anything important or lasting is so strong that the heightened stakes of the dramatised novel can do nothing but expose this. We are left with the feeling, which we shouldn't be, that this internal story should have been the movie. Then we would have had another redneck noir like Blood Simple; fine but why now? We need the shell around it as that is where the question has been placed, the philosophy we must engage with. What a pity, then, that the polish that gives that shell its beautiful pink gleam works so dully against its hold.

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