November 17, 2016

nocturnal-animals Greetings again from the darkness. First rule of Write Club … ABC. Always Bring Conflict. Alright, so I blended famous lines from a couple of movies there, but the point is a good script inevitably has conflict throughout. Director Tom Ford (A Single Man, 2009) adapted the screenplay from Austin Wright’s novel “Tony and Susan”, and while significant conflicts abound, it’s the multiple and vivid contrasts that take this one to the next level.

Director Ford jolts us with one of the most unique and unwelcome opening scenes ever as the credits flash by. A high gloss art gallery is the setting for a combination of video/performance art taking place that could only be appreciated by those with very specific tastes … those who favor obese naked dancing ladies. Extremely obese and absolutely naked. It’s not the last time we as viewers will be uncomfortable, but it is the last time we will chuckle (even if it is awkwardly).

The curator of the art gallery is Susan, played by the always excellent Amy Adams. She lives in a stunning, ultra-contemporary mansion with her picturesque husband played by Armie Hammer. Their relationship is apparently as cold as his business, resulting in an empty relationship and the need to maintain the façade with their friends while quietly selling off assets to buy time. On the day that he leaves on a “business trip”, she receives a package containing a galley of her ex-husband Edward’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) first novel … some interesting reading during her time alone.

A creative story structure has Susan reading the book (dedicated to her) in bed while we “see” what she’s reading/envisioning. The story starts out as just another road trip for a husband (Gyllenhaal in a dual role), wife (Isla Fisher) and their teenage daughter (Ellie Bamber). However, on the desolate back roads of west Texas things get intense – almost unbearably so. The young family is terrorized by a trio of rednecks led by sociopath Ray Marcus (played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson in what is head and shoulders above anything he’s done to date). What follows is the fear of every man … unable to protect his family, and every woman … being abducted.

Thanks to flashbacks and some simple inferences, we soon realize the novel is corresponding to Susan and Edward’s past relationship, as well as Susan’s current situation. The previously mentioned contrasts really kick into gear. It’s the past versus the present, west Texas tumbleweeds versus the sleek and glamorous art world, Susan’s first artsy husband versus her new ideal one, young Susan versus current Susan, the physical beauty of those in Susan’s world versus the grit and ugliness of the novel, and finally, reality vs what’s not real.

The revenge-thriller portion of the novel makes for fascinating story-telling, and we get drawn in fully once Michael Shannon (playing a west Texas detective) arrives on the screen. Always one to disappear into his role, this may be Mr. Shannon’s best yet. Though he doesn’t have significant screen time, we are mesmerized by him during his scenes. He and Gyllenhaal are terrific together. Also appearing in supporting roles are Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough, Jena Malone, and a chilling scene from Laura Linney as Susan’s high society mother.

The two parts of the film play off each other like Brian DePalma against Sergio Leone. Slick against dusty … but of course, there is misery and disappointment and deceit in each. The cinematography (2 time Oscar nominee Seamus McGarvey) and editing (Joan Sobel) are superb and complemented by a spot on score from composer Abel Korzeniowski (a mixture of Bernard Hermann and Basic Instinct). The ending may frustrate some (not me) and though it may not find a huge audience, a loyal fan base is quite likely.

watch the trailer:




January 31, 2010

 (1-31-10) Greetings again from the darkness. World famous fashion designer Tom Ford (YSL, Gucci) dives head first into the movie world as writer (screenplay) and director of this one. As expected, the visual details are impeccable – from the “glass house” to the color scheme to the set design to the wardrobe and make-up. All that is missing is a character we care about.

Colin Firth has been nominated for many awards for his performance as George, the grieving professor, who in 1962 lost his partner of 16 years. Not even sure grieving is the correct word. Mostly, George has just given up on life. He gets up every morning and puts on his facade and begins the false-front that is his day.

We see, in flashback/daydream form, Mathew Goode as George’s partner. They seemed to have been very happy together. We also see Julianne Moore as George’s neighbor and long ago shot at a “real” relationship (her words). Ford has a nice touch showing Ms. Moore applying make-up as she puts on her best front for an evening with her grieving friend, George. It’s all a bit pathetic actually.

Anyway, here it is 8 months after his lover’s death and George has apparently decided to end his misery. We are locked in to his preparations, which are every bit as fastidious as his morning routine. My favorite parts were when George gets shocked out of his little world and has to interface, even briefly, with a colleague or neighbor’s kid. The way he maintains his front is the key to what’s ticking.

Overall, it is impossible to argue with the praise being heaped upon Mr. Firth for his fine performance, but this film is really pretty shallow and gives us nothing to ponder. Maybe the Christopher Isherwood novel (source material) is better. Evidently the subject matter clicked with Mr. Ford … too bad he wasn’t successful in sharing his connection.