One of the year’s most beautiful movies, to be sure, and the “novel” sections of the film are pure pulped-up thriller, but I’m not sure what else is really here. Reminded me a bit of The Neon Demon meets Hell or High Water (especially in the way Ford elevates cinematic trash, similarly to Refn, through artful composition and aesthetic choice) but lacks the thematic focus of those two releases. The editing often feels like a bludgeon, and Ford seems content to briefly flick at a few choice themes superficially before scurrying off towards another, leaving me scratching my head wondering, after the fade to black, if there was anything I was supposed to take away from it.
I appreciate Ford’s ambition, and there is a lot that works here (Gyllenhaal’s novel character, Michael Shannon, Aaron-Taylor Johnson as the slime villain, Seamus McGarvey’s sumptuous visuals) but it lacks the emotional resonance it is aiming for. As entertaining and beautiful as it is, Ford tried to make too many movies at once. Engaging, often thrilling, but ultimately vacuous. Maybe that’s the point?