John Patrick Shanley
- Meryl Streep as Sister Aloysius Beauvier
- Philip Seymour Hoffman as Father Flynn
- Amy Adams as Sister James
- Viola Davis as Mrs. Miller
John Patrick Shanley directs this adaptation of his own play which powerfully and ambiguously questions the nature of truth, certainty and religion. Doubt really dives into the conundrum and mystery of suspicion, bolstered by one exceptional cast doing fine work with deep material.
In 1964 , austere school principal and nun Sister Aloysius Beauvier runs a Catholic school in The Bronx, where she watches each and every move to keep others in line. She is a woman who strikes fear into the hearts of everyone and believes in discipline where her students are involved. Her ideas are of an old-fashioned mindset, which puts her at odds with popular priest Father Flynn. He is a seemingly kindly man who the children like and whose ideas are progressive in bringing the Church forward. Sister Aloysius has a deep dislike of him and after hearing a sermon that he delivers on the feelings of doubt, she asks young and naive Sister James to keep an eye on him. Shortly after this, Sister James reluctantly reveals that Donald Miller, the school’s first black student, returned from seeing Father Flynn in the rectory, crying and with the smell of alcohol on his breath. This convinces Sister Aloysius that there is something sinister about Father Flynn and she is certain that he has sexually abused the boy. Father Flynn denies any wrongdoing and tells her to leave it alone. But Sister Aloysius is not backing down and takes it upon herself, despite a lack of proof, to bring down Father for what she believes he has done. So begins a battle of wills between the relentless Sister Aloysius and Father Flynn , where the truth is the thing that lies at the complex centre of events but is hidden and speculated with unexpected results.
John Patrick Shanley successfully transports his play from the stage to screen with a subtle building in uneasiness and moral questioning. There is a high level of tense atmosphere at work in Doubt, generated through the way that the dialogue takes on multiple meanings and the tight surroundings that enclose the characters. canted angles and close-ups further enhance the engulfing intensity of the piece. The dark tones of the cinematography, supplied by the great , cement us in the dark and complex time and setting, rarely venturing further than the school for a feeling of deep claustrophobia. The limited setting hints at the movies origins as a play, yet help keep that very aura of intimate drama. Some of Doubt gets stagey from time to time, yet this niggle is quickly rectified by the provocative drama and time for rumination that it ultimately achieves. The amount of tension that fills the frames if the movie took me by surprise in a good way. I really was finding myself questioning who was right and wrong, plus whether personal vendettas and emotions were clouding the judgement of characters. There are those who watch Doubt and find its ambiguity distracting, but for most of us, this added level of intrigue gets you to really deliberate what you make of the combustible situation playing out. What people need to consider is that Doubt is as much a mystery about guilt, possible abuse of power and morality, as it is a drama. A quiet yet well suited score knows exactly when to appear and when to let scenes play out devoid of interference.
Meryl Streep heads the cast with another sterling performance. Burying herself in the self-righteous and stern head nun who is the chief accuser, Streep exudes a no-nonsense attitude( spoken in a harsh and convincing Bronx accent), tempered by a dry wit and occasional time for revelation. Yet the biggest accomplishment of her acting is in the balance of Sister Aloysius, in various subtle and expressive ways that hint at her being something different underneath her austere appearance . She is a fearsome person to say the least who may just be doing this to get rid of Father Flynn , but on the other hand, she seems to want to protect her student from what she believes is inappropriate and disturbing contact. There is a real complexity to this woman that Meryl Streep understands; Aloysius may believe that certainty is on her side, but she may in fact be feeling the strains of time pushing her further away from authority and clear judgement. Playing off her and facing off against her in very intense scenes is the excellent Philip Seymour Hoffman. He manages to make Father Flynn both amiable and somewhat questionable, lending a big dose of ambiguity to everything. With force and skill, Hoffman represents the accused as a man trying to bring the church up to date, and sparring with the pointed finger of Sister Aloysius for something he may or not have done. His scenes with Streep are filled with power and rising suspicion, culminating in an arresting coin which both stars really let loose. Amy Adams beautifully and with considerable nuance plays the sympathetic and good-hearted novice Sister James, who is essentially the audiences guide to being caught between two ends of the spectrum. A sweetness is present in the work that never becomes cloying because of how well Adams imbues the part with a questioning and conflicted heart. Stuck in the middle of both Father Flynn and Sister Aloysius, Sister James is forced to contend with both sets of possibilities, a challenge that Amy Adams more than rises to with a sensitive piece of acting. Rounding out the cast is the brief but superbly played performance from the wonderful Viola Davis. She stars as the mother of the boy who may have been abused and her screen time is mainly confined to one specific scene. But what a powerful and indelible scene it is! Filled with a sadness, conviction and acting in a way that may seem different from what you’d expect from a mother being informed of potentially horrifying treatment of her son, Viola Davis dramatically provides the catalyst of the story, that enables us to see things in a very different way. This is a performance that proves that you don’t need hours on screen to be memorable. The four main actors were all Oscar nominated for their work, and it isn’t any surprise why because of how convincingly they bring to life this thorny drama.
A thought-provoking and building triumph of unbearable tension and questions, Doubt succeeds at getting the audience to really consider the validity of supposedly benevolent actions and just how damaging things can become when there is lack of proof but plenty of speculation. It’s a testament to the acting and directing that Doubt never feels too stagey, instead mounted with a mystery and probing yet subtle approach. What we get is a powerful and intense film that leaves you really contemplating events long after the curtain has been drawn.
- Amy Adams as Margaret Keane
- Christoph Waltz as Walter Keane
- Danny Huston as Dick Nolan
- Terence Stamp as John Canaday
- Jason Schwartzman as Ruben
- Krysten Ritter as DeeAnn
A biographical drama about Margaret Keane, who for years was in the shadow of her husband Walter who claimed credit for her work, Big Eyes is evocatively translated to the screen and showcases Tim Burton’s direction with a maturity, and great performances from Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz. If it’s another side of Burton you want, starting with Big Eyes is a recommended one from me.
We start in the late 1950’s, where Margaret packs up her daughter Jane and leaves her first husband. She travels and attempts to make a life in North Beach, San Francisco. But being a divorced single mother isn’t easy for Margaret, though she gets a job at a furniture company. However, art is her biggest passion in the world and the things she paints are often of children with extremely large eyes, which she tries to sell outdoors though to no avail. It is here that charming Walter Keane enters the picture, posing as a painter himself( though we’ll soon learn otherwise). Walter, with his stories and larger than life personality, sweeps Margaret off her feet and after a brief courtship the two are married. With both being art minded, they attempt to make something of their lives doing what they love. After both craft paintings that are displayed in a nightclub, someone takes interest in one of Margaret’s big eye paintings. Rather than jinx a sale, Walter lies and says that he is the artist. Making money from this Walter is thrilled, though Margaret is dismayed at him being so covert. Ultimately, as Margaret is so vulnerable and fragile, Walter uses this to manipulate her into corroborating his scheme and keeping her silent as he passes off her work as his own. This traps Margaret in a big lie that she doesn’t know how to escape from(mainly because she has helped perpetuate it under duress), and for a while she goes along with it, continuing to paint what people don’t know is her work. But as the paintings get more noticed and Walter more greedy, she realises that she can no longer live this sham any more and with burning and emerging toughness, she takes action to reclaim her rightful ownership in a court battle.
Tim Burton is behind the camera in the director’s chair and he does something different here. Over his last few films, I felt that Burton was somehow becoming a bit rote and not at his usual best, due to growing use of CGI and a lack of attention to story. But with Big Eyes, Burton discovers his footing again by toning down his usual macabre sentiments in favour of a deeper and revealing style. Burton doesn’t completely jettison his usual kookiness, as can be attested to a few peculiar sequences where Margaret sees other people with eyes similar to her work, he just reins in his creepy visuals a bit more and crafts a very intimate and personal story that stands out. I definitely enjoyed this more traditional approach from Tim Burton and peppered with a little sprinkling of his unusual magic that don’t overpower the story, Big Eyes excels at being a change of pace in the most effective way. You can see that Burton has a big respect for the artistic mind by the way he presents Margaret’s emotional attachments to her work, that sadly were relegated to the background by the conniving cons of her husband. As dark as the story is when you look at it closely, there is a wealth of humour thrown in that makes fun of opinions critics have on art and the overall value of it, specifically in regards to monetary worth, which it seems the slimy Walter was consumed with. When the battle of wills omen escape and it leads to court, fun can be head in sequences that prove the truth can indeed be stranger than fiction. Now I wouldn’t say Big Eyes is a perfect movie, it does have a few little flaws. During various moments, the story did find itself losing its way and getting a little repetitive. And a bit more oomph in the middle may have been beneficial, though it isn’t something that does harm to an intriguing piece. But I found myself invested watching this film for the story it provided and an insight into the mind of an artist, while covering themes of personal connection to ones work and female oppression. The flaws I mentioned which in honesty where little ones, thankfully don’t spoil the overall product which is a definite improvement on Burton’s recent output because it tries something you wouldn’t expect from him. The visuals are kept to being bright and ever so slightly mocking as the real turmoil of Margaret was largely hidden by the outward appearance of everything being serene. And Danny Elfman provides a brimming, urgent score, perfectly in touch with Margaret’s awakening.
Amy Adams gorgeously and subtly plays Margaret Keane as a shy and meek woman, who slowly burns with resentment at her circumstances, knowing that some of it falls to her. Right from the start, Adams makes you relate and sympathise with this woman whose good nature was taken advantage of until she eventually decided enough was enough and she wanted her story to be known. She starts out birdlike and fragile and then little by little through nuance, Adams invests the part with a burgeoning voice that won’t be silenced anymore or swept under the carpet. It is an exquisite and moving performance that doesn’t need big theatrics to be effective; instead the quiet and graceful approach from Amy Adams works beautifully in imbuing the part of this artist with a passion and inner strength that eventually percolates through. At the other end of the spectrum is Christoph Waltz. His portrayal of the ruthless Walter is one that features loud and bold brush strokes, which Waltz obviously has customary fun with. I’ve read other reviews that say that he goes way over the top in his work and that it is a detriment to Big Eyes. I wouldn’t go that far because I think the part needs an exuberance that Waltz can provide as evidenced by his other work in movies. The part of Walter is this big talking, savvy man with hardly any subtlety, much like the ringmaster of the circus. And I must say, Waltz has that energy and more, which I think balances well with the gentle work of Amy Adams. Danny Huston as the man narrating the film, is appropriately barbed and cynical, which seems ideal as he is portraying a gossip columnist. The great Terence Stamp infuses his small appearance as a scathing critic with a biting sensibility, while Jason Schwartzman makes for laughs as a snooty artist. It is only Krysten Ritter who doesn’t resonate, as she is given scant to do and can’t bring whatever life there was to the part of Margaret’s friend.
A down to Earth change of pace from Tim Burton, Big Eyes proves to be a memorable version of a true life story, that has a core of emotion and respect regarding art and two excellent performances from the leads.
David O. Russell
- Mark Wahlberg as Micky Ward
- Christian Bale as Dicky Eklund
- Amy Adams as Charlene Fleming
- Melissa Leo as Alice Ward
Based on the true story of boxer Micky Ward and his unexpected comeback, The Fighter is an exceptional sports drama that benefits from the highly powered cast it has and immensely satisfying direction.
It’s the early 90’s in Lowell, Massachusetts and Micky Ward is a promising boxer with talent but not much luck. He is trained by his half-brother Dicky Eklund, who had a shot at the big time but has since fallen into drug addiction, a large group of sisters on his back and his brash mother Alice manages his career, thought it seems her main interest is the money at first. Yet while Micky has loyalty to for teaching him almost everything he knows about boxing, he has started to become wary of his brother’s drug habit and how his mother manages his career. And after another defeat that seriously knocks the wind out of his sails, he contemplates whether he should continue with boxing. Of course, his family doesn’t take too kindly to this idea. Yet Micky finds comfort in the arms of honest barmaid Charlene, who tells Micky that he will have to cut ties with his family if he ever wants to succeed as a fighter in the big time. Dicky finds himself in serious trouble and is put in prison for various crimes, which severs a lot of the relationship between him and his brother for a while. It all comes down to Micky to make this decision of whether family loyalty is as important as striving to hit the heights of greatness before it is too late and he can longer do it.
David O. Russell is on confident directorial duties and brings a variety of talent and vision to The Fighter. He uses a good helping of grit and infuses it into the material, best shown in the slight grain the film is tinted with to heighten a sense of authenticity. The crowd pleasing aspects come off amazingly and we all love to root for the underdog story, and this is one such story. Between the upheaval of family shouting matches and Micky’s attempts for success, The Fighter manages to satisfy both audiences that it is going for; the fans of boxing movies and those who like based on true life success tales. There is some great use of juxtaposition; seen when a drugged up Dicky is recounting his promising fight from years ago against Sugar Ray Leonard and then inter cut to this is the real footage of his once successful time, clearly showing just how far he has fallen since. This allows characters to shine in the film, especially Dicky, who undergoes a major transformation once incarcerated. At first, The Fighter is a little slow off the mark, before soon swinging into victory by pulling your interest into the story with the amount of energy and growing inspiration it has going through its veins. There is a healthy sprinkle of humour in the film( particularly shown in the fact that Micky can hardly get a word in edge ways because of his outrageous family) that actually works in the long run and doesn’t distract from the drama. And once the film gains footing, it plays out rather nicely and doesn’t disappoint you with its outcome. A knockout soundtrack bristles throughout The Fighter, driving a lot of the action both emotionally and aurally.
Mark Wahlberg cuts a subdued and good-natured presence, tempered with a deep feeling of dilemma of what to do. He is caught between his family and his abilities, and Wahlberg captures that excellently as the quiet heart of the inspiring story. It’s as much a physical performance as one that is emotionally internal too, a balancing act Wahlberg maintains to a high degree. Wahlberg’s quiet and subtlety are offset marvellously by the immensely convincing work of Christian Bale, who picked up a fully merited Best Supporting Actor Oscar for playing Micky’s drug-addicted brother. His very appearance, skeletal and almost spider like in movements, is so wholly convincing and integral that you can’t tear your eyes away from him. Yet while visually adept for the part, Bale also emotively brings out the shattered dreams of the pitiful Dicky, who can’t see that his days as a fighter are over because of how hooked on crack he is. There is a tragedy to the part that Bale plays to perfection and both this and his physical commitment to the role burn into the memory for a long time. Amy Adams is well cast against type as Micky’s girlfriend and supporter Charlene. The role allows Adams to showcase her versatility as a sexy and feisty lady; and the part is very different from how many have usually seen her in the past. Starring as Charlene, she imbues the part with an understanding and realistic toughness that fits it like a glove, as she encourages Micky to take a chance. She drops a million f-bombs, calls people out on their bull and has an attitude to burn; all of which Adams brings to the table with her considerable talents that cement her as one of the best actresses and my personal favourites out there. Melissa Leo, who collected a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role, is on fine form too as the mother/manager of Micky. While the part calls for her to be showy and aggressive, Leo makes it all work and unravels how Alice wants good things for her kids, she just can’t handle anyone else that she sees as getting in the way and undermining her. The role could have easily become a caricature, but with the winning Leo playing it, any such trepidation melts away as her boisterous yet realistic performances attests to.
A well-directed and entertaining sports drama, The Fighter comes out as an inspiring and eventful story with an authenticity and splendid cast ensuring a knockout delivery.
- Amy Adams as Dr. Louise Banks
- Jeremy Renner as Ian Donnelly
- Forest Whitaker as Colonel Weber
A sublime science fiction drama with thematic heft and a welcome lack of outrageousness, Arrival stands as an intelligent film that poses many interesting questions for the viewer and grips with airs of mystery and fine performances.
Arrival begins with twelve strange spacecrafts landing at various places around the globe. No one is sure of why these objects have come to Earth and many questions lie on people’s lips regarding intentions of those aboard, particularly as they issue a seemingly indecipherable message. Brilliant linguistics professor Dr. Louise Banks is called up by the American government to aid in discovery of what the beings in the crafts want. Brought along by Colonel Weber and physicist Ian Donnelly, she travels to Montana where one of the ships is levitating. Every eighteen hours, the doorway to these pods open and under the direction of Weber, the team of Louise, Ian and other scientists enters the unknown in hopes of coming across answers. It is here that Louise encounters the alien beings, known as heptapods. At first, the attempts to establish contact with them are futile, but Louise, who is already carrying emotional baggage from the death of her daughter, is not about to give up that easily. Through pain-staking methods and committed diligence to the massive job at hand, Louise slowly but surely begins to form something of a bond with the heptapods and gradually through her patient drive, begins to form an idea of what they could be saying. Yet time is not on her side as foreign powers grow anxious about events and chaos takes hold. Many countries consider taking aggressive action against something they don’t understand and it is up to Banks and Donnelly to crack the language and code before mankind heads towards almost certain destruction by its own hand.
Denis Villeneuve masterfully constructs this mysterious puzzle of a film that probes the mind and moves the heart with excellent degrees of adroitness. The fluidity of his vision and how he chooses to shoot scenes is in full view, particularly in the expansive tracking shots of the spacecrafts and the claustrophobic feeling of the heptapods residing place, which is situated behind a fog enshrouded glass chamber. What is very admirable and most interesting about Arrival at least in my eyes, is the slow burning effect it emits. Villeneuve is clearly not in a rush to tell this story, choosing to slowly reveal things and keep the mystery going for us to unearth. And there are a few well-timed surprises to be discovered in Arrival, which bring out the puzzle box aspects of a jigsaw slowly assembling to create a clear picture. It is also very refreshing that for a movie that contains aliens coming to Earth, this is far from a generic science fiction film with explosive action and ridiculous ideas. As much as the story has global implications as to what the aliens want, it is also the personal story of Louise and the journey she embarks on to understand them. Already having significant personal troubles and sadness in her life, Louise is a character who becomes our entry point to the story and who it is hard not to be emotionally invested with. The timely message of how communication is key to understanding and one shouldn’t rush into the unexpected blindly is heard loud and clear in Arrival. This helps in bringing out yet another layer of exceptional food for thought for the audience to chew over. A subdued lighting scheme causes the movie to have a very mysterious impact as it clearly balances darkness with the occasional flash of light, especially in the case of the heptapods. And talking of those creatures, the effects used to craft them are breathtaking at shaping these strange beings into things of majestic and unusual beauty. Arrival’s soundscape is marvellously constructed, from the sound of the aliens that is difficult to decipher to the melancholy and evocative score of the film, the aural parts of this movie are on a very amazing level.
Front and centre of Arrival and one of its strongest parts is the utterly beautiful and affecting performance from Amy Adams. The dedicated Louise is our entry point to the story and we are put on the same emotional level as her; everything is mainly seen from her point of view and with Adams subtly playing the role to perfection, we feel what she feels. We experience her awe at first seeing the creatures and their way of communication(which resembles symbols formed by an inky substance), we feel her pain of the memories of her deceased daughter and we worry for her as she becomes overworked and determined to uncover the key to everything. It’s a performance of all-encompassing natural emotion that is largely contained and composed, yet always there for us to glimpse. It is quite simply a stunning piece of work from Amy Adams, who is having an excellent year with her other turn in Nocturnal Animals getting notice. Expect a few award notices for her vulnerable and soulful portrayal here. Ably supporting her is Jeremy Renner, who is affable, charismatic and amusingly geeky as the physicist helping Louise with deciphering the message. He works nicely alongside Adams, with the two establishing a good working chemistry of intellect and friendship. The always watchable and sincere Forest Whitaker gives off the definite feeling of authority here as the Colonel in charge of Louise’s mission, although through his eyes you can tell that he is worried about the possibilities of what may happen if contact and motives aren’t established.
Handsomely directed with dexterity by Denis Villeneuve, resonant on both an emotional and intellectual level and acted with soul, Arrival is one science fiction film that gets you to think while at the same time absorbing you with its thought-provoking story and ideas. If you want to see a movie this year that has a brain and a deep heart, make that movie be Arrival as you will be bowled over by what it has to offer.
- Embeth Davidtz as Madeleine Johnsten
- Alessandro Nivola as George Johnsten
- Amy Adams as Ashley Johnsten
- Benjamin McKenzie as Johnny Johnsten
- Celia Weston as Peg Johnsten
- Scott Wilson as Eugene Johnsten
A perceptive yet slightly offbeat drama on family values, attitudes and mores concerning an outsider coming into the fold, Junebug is a thoroughly delightful and revealing snapshot with superb acting and characters.
Madeleine is a cultured and willowy art dealer in Chicago who in the beginning of the film falls for handsome George Johnsten. After a whirlwind romance, the two are hitched. The main crux of Junebug concerns the two visiting George’s hometown in North Carolina. She decides to combine potentially getting a strange local artist whose work hasn’t gained exposure as someone for her gallery with meeting her in-laws belatedly as it has been six months since she married him. The welcome she receives is somewhat muted from most of the family. George’s mother Peg is an unsmiling matriarch with everything in order, his father Eugene is an eccentric man largely confined to doing woodwork in the basement and his brother Johnny is a sulky and resentful young man, who hardly talks to anyone and is not especially pleased to see his older brother. Madeleine discovers something of an ally in Johnny’s wife Ashley, who is heavily pregnant and seemingly the only person happy to see her. Ashley is a wide-eyes girl who sees Madeleine as something special and is more than a little naive, although she does realise the difficulties in her own marriage with her almost silent husband and hopes that by having a baby things may turn around. Trying to ingratiate herself into the eccentric family while at the same time getting the artist she wants for her gallery, Madeleine is in for a number of surprises as she discovers how different she is from her in-laws and how she might not really know her husband as well as she thinks.
Phil Morrison is excellent in his direction of this film, which is observed with a sense of naturalism, best embodied by the characters that populate the film’s landscape. They are drawn with realistic strokes that make them very human, with all the idiosyncrasies that make up different people. The winning script offers nuanced humour, simplicity and the little dramas of life invested with humanity and unshowy dialogue, which contributes greatly to the overall subtle yet compelling story. Scenes drift into each other with an ease and grace, there is no need for overly arty embellishments here as Junebug dances to its own tune. The pace of the piece is one of measured awareness that is still engaging, though there will be some who find it too slow. I for one liked the leisurely pace that was used in Junebug as it encapsulated how the film was a slice of life drama. Life can be unpredictable at times and things can come out of nowhere; which is exactly what all the elements on show manage to get across. Some parts lapse into labored dullness, but the rest of the film is so acutely observed in its depiction of the strangeness of family ways and chalk and cheese attitudes, that you can excuse the odd misfiring part. The best parts of Junebug arise from Madeleine’s attempts to level with her in-laws and their ways. There is something very honest about the way Junebug examines how sometimes don’t realise that due to a difference in background they come off as a certain way to others not accustomed to that. Environments and upbringing are brought out in quiet yet compelling degrees as Junebug nicely opens up these angles by having the outsider that is Madeleine infiltrates the small town ranks of the family and not really knowing how to converse with them. The music in Junebug is sparse yet used when necessary, ensuring a somewhat eclectic backdrop to the film that often uses contemplative silence in large chunks.
A finely tuned performance from Embeth Davidtz makes her character someone relatable, even when her actions unintentionally lead to her coming off as snooty. The part of Madeleine is one of sophistication and manners which Davidtz marvellously covers, but her biggest achievement is anchoring the part with an underlying vulnerability and inability to see that she comes off as brittle and haughty to her in-laws. In the most ambiguous part is Alessandro Nivola as the returning golden boy. Nivola plays his part in such a way that we discover things about him as the film progresses, much in the same way as Madeleine does. The mystery yet understated delivery ensures that the character becomes interesting rather than superfluous. Amy Adams is the biggest standout of this movie playing the garrulous and saucer-eyed Ashley. Adams encompasses optimism and sunny personality, and in latter stages when the film calls for it, deep and moving sadness. Ashley as a character could have easily become an annoying caricature, but in the skilled hands of Adams, she blossoms into a character that is a lot smarter than many think and someone whose brimming enthusiasm is hard to resist. A truly lovely and expressive performance from Amy Adams enlivens events in Junebug. There is also Benjamin McKenzie, with his monosyllabic but ever so sympathetic delivery of the jealous and angry brother, who can’t quite stomach the success of his returning sibling and is more than a little distant with everyone around him as a result of this feeling of inadequacy. Celia Weston and Scott Wilson fill out the roles of George’s parents( a waspish mother and a quiet dad) with the right amount of small town values and eccentricities as they are perplexed and unsure of their son’s bride who more than stands out among them.
A warm yet bittersweet story of family, culture clash and misunderstanding, Junebug quietly tells its tale with an eccentric and low-key charm and excellent cast, especially a winning Amy Adams.
- Amy Adams as Susan Morrow
- Jake Gyllenhaal as Edward Sheffield/ Tony Hastings
- Michael Shannon as Detective Bobby Andes
- Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Ray Marcus
- Isla Fisher as Laura Hastings
- Armie Hammer as Hutton Morrow
- Laura Linney as Anne
I promised my readers in a recent post that I would be going the cinema more often so that’s just what I did. I went to see Nocturnal Animals, the second film by fashion designer turned director Tom Ford. And let me say, it is a fine drama-thriller composed with style and substance as it traverses through the effects of revenge, betrayal and violence.
Susan Morrow is a beautiful and successful Los Angeles art gallery owner, who specialises in avant-garde exhibitions. To look at this woman she has it all; a handsome younger husband Hutton, a swanky house and glowing career. But underneath the surface of elegance that she puts on, Susan is extremely lonely. Plagued by insomnia, hateful of the work she does that she refers to as junk and filled with jaded feelings, her life is clearly not as ideal as it appears. Out of the blue, Susan is sent the manuscript to a book entitled Nocturnal Animals, written by her ex-husband Edward, who she hasn’t spoken to in 19 years. Susan, bewildered by Edward sending the book to her and dedicating it to her, begins reading it while her philandering husband is away on business. The story is one of retribution and revenge concerning a family travelling through West Texas and being menaced by rednecks, who kidnap the protagonist’s wife and daughter. Susan imagines the main character of Tony as resembling Edward, clearly illustrating unfinished business between the two. As the tale progress, Tony takes the law into his own hands along with the no-nonsense, grizzled, Stetson sporting Detective Bobby Andes in an attempt to dish out revenge to the men who ruined his life. The brutal and desperately sad nature of the book disturbs yet grips Susan, who unravels emotionally as she begins to see it as a thinly veiled attack on her and how she ended the relationship with Edward, who she proclaimed as weak. Soon, Susan has to come to terms with what she did to her ex-husband as his book has a significant impact on former wife.
It shouldn’t come as a surprise that a film by someone with a background in fashion will be stylish and Nocturnal Animals very much is. At least however there is a lot of substance to this movie that displays Ford’s growing skill as a film maker, with his choices of shooting a movie this ambitious and delivering it with dark and toxic panache. Tom Ford shows that he contributes just as much to cinema as he does to fashion and can bridge the gap with stylish ease. And the way he paces the film as a slow-burning one suits the unwinding tales of darkness that we come to view. While Nocturnal Animals is splendidly lensed and filled with intoxicating imagery that will be difficult to swat away, it is the stories that unfurl that catches the eye as well. Sometimes films that have an arty look can descend into pretentiousness, but Nocturnal Animals is refreshingly not one of them as the narratives it creates and the execution of each are gripping without being confusing. The three stories at play, the drama of Susan having her misdeeds laid bare, the southern revenge tale and the recollections of the past are all extremely well observed and presented. The editing between the three showcases the links between them and thankfully you are not left scratching your head over which part is the present, past and which is the fiction. It is almost like watching two films in one, yet the way that they dovetail in acerbic fashion and cast a spell, it is hard to tear your eyes away from the dark movie at play. There is something very surreal about watching Nocturnal Animals as it weaves together everything and through visuals, it brings out different shifts in genre and tone that are adroitly handled. For example, you have the grotesque opening at Susan’s art exhibition that reveals her inner demons and ugliness beneath the veneer that points to drama in her life, then within minutes once the book is opened, a lot of noir-like tension is employed in the violent tale of an ordinary man pushed to the edge until he is capable of brutality himself. Apart from the occasional languors, Nocturnal Animals keeps you watching as narratives unfold with certain symmetry( many shots mirror each other as momentum grows), that Susan becomes very much aware of. While physical violence is at the heart of the tale, there is the emotional violence inflicted on Susan as she is forced to evaluate her past that opens up like a gaping wound and threatens to drown her. At various points of the film, we see Susan dropping the book because it hits so close to home and the way the camera lingers on her pained face, says a lot about how guilty she feels about her treatment of Edward. It would have been a cheap shot to feature Edward in the present being pleased with his revenge, but thankfully Tom Ford jettisons that predictable idea by leaving him in the past, which only causes the impact his book has on Susan to heighten largely. Some may find Nocturnal Animals too stylised and a little bit cold, but that is to miss the level of attention the film has to each story and how they compliment the other by slowly meshing together. A lot of tension and suspense is given to Nocturnal Animals through the score, that swells and builds with the feeling of work by Bernard Herrmann and the music he provided for Hitchcock.
Amy Adams turns in an outstandingly nuanced turn as Susan, whose hollow, haunted and brittle existence is given a kicking in the guts by the book she receives that causes her to confront the bad past decisions she made. Adams does so much acting with her face that is riveting to watch even when she is silent. You witness the sadness, pain and regret in those large blue eyes and it is quite something to watch how subtle her acting is as she gets right under the skin of the character. Adams has become one of my favourite actresses over the years, and with her turn in Nocturnal Animals, it displays everything I find riveting about her acting style and effectiveness. I wouldn’t be surprised if Amy Adams is up for many awards come next year for her exemplary portrayal. Jake Gyllenhaal pulls double duty by playing both the Edward from the past who was sensitive and the literary counterpart of the vengeful Tony. Gyllenhaal effortlessly judges the differences in the characters and makes each an individual, that still ties in with a certain duality that Nocturnal Animals has going in. From the wide-eyed and nice enthusiasm of Edward in years gone by to the boiling cauldron of repressed anger that is Tony, Gyllenhaal knocks both roles out of the park. Michael Shannon is one of the most versatile actors in my opinion and I always enjoy seeing him pop up in movies. It’s safe to say I was mightily impressed with his supporting turn as the gruff and embittered detective, who is the man who wants to see justice done for Tony and has had enough of all the horror he has seen that has gone unpunished. This weariness, as well as level of sarcasm is brought to the part with a sense of dark charisma from Michael Shannon. Unrecognisable in the part of the sinister redneck monster who terrorises Tony and his family, Aaron Taylor-Johnson exudes such a grimy menace and psychopathic tendencies that you feel genuinely frightened by his strange presence in this unusual movie. You can practically feel the dirtiness of the character as it radiates off the screen with a malicious grin. Isla Fisher appears in a small but integral part of the kidnapped wife in the book Edward has written and the fact that she has a resemblance to Amy Adams gives another level of acidic side-swiping to the narrative as Susan is left reeling by what she reads. Armie Hammer does well with what he is given as the philandering husband, while a scene-stealing Laura Linney makes her presence felt portraying Susan’s nasty and bigoted mother.
Gorgeously shot, atmospherically rendered with skill by Tom Ford and excellently played by the cast, in particular Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, Nocturnal Animals is a genre-bending movie that opens up a blistering set of stories that tie together with deft assurance and disturbing impact. Trust me, this is one of those movies that gets right under the skin and must be digested for all the impact and things it has in it long after viewing. Even as I write this review, I’m still putting parts together and remembering little bits that may have escaped my attention at first.
David O. Russell
- Christian Bale as Irving Rosenfeld
- Amy Adams as Sydney Prosser
- Bradley Cooper as Richie DiMaso
- Jeremy Renner as Carmine Polito
- Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn Rosenfeld
Loosely inspired by the FBI ABSCAM sting operation of the 1970’s, American Hustle is a slick, well-acted crime comedy with eccentric characters and themes of survival, deception and scamming. The style may distract from the narrative for some, but David O. Russell’s film is for the most part as tightly constructed as the perm donned by Bradley Cooper’s character. Boasting an excellent A List cast who all bring their talents to the forefront also helps with the success of American Hustle.
It’s 1978, Irving Rosenfeld is a con artist who is aided by the stunningly seductive former stripper Sydney Prosser who he is crazy in love with despite the fact he is married to Rosalyn and has a young son. Sydney poses as an English Lady of the Manor in order to help with the various cons they pull. Their scams are going pretty well until they are busted by FBI agent Richie DiMaso. Rather than hand them up to justice, he instead thinks of a better use for the two. He persuades them into helping him with sting operations, one in which involves Carmine Polito, the Mayor of New Jersey. As the operations continue, they become more dangerous as the mob becomes involved and Irving’s unstable wife Rosalyn begins to suspect something . But in the game of conning, nothing is as clear as it appears and our characters find themselves wound up in deceit and corruption. Prepare for snappy visual style, 70’s grooves and wardrobes, and a whole lot of fun as American Hustle delivers a humour filled journey through the world of con artists.
David O. Russell directs with visual nods to Scorsese and other crime capers. It is impossible not to watch the snappy edits and use of soundtrack and not think of a Scorsese movie. Although the visuals may overpower the story at certain points and the tone can be a little uneven, the script manages to entertain the audience none the less. Featuring humour galore and interesting characters to flesh out the sharp, snazzy story and the various incidents arising from Richie’s complicated plans. Various scenes that stand out are Irving’s morning routine of styling his elaborate comb over, the sassy Sydney dancing with Richie to the sound of Donna Summer and the unpredictable Rosalyn’s run in with a microwave (which she refers to as a space oven). Special praise must go to costume and hair styling as it is second to none. From gaudy ties to slinky sequined gowns and perms , American Hustle has major props when it comes to styling these characters that populate this crime comedy.
Yet the biggest impression and the thing you will remember the most, is the talented and starry cast of American Hustle. Christian Bales absolutely nails the role of Irving, giving us an interesting character who can be smart, jealous and skilled. Bale gained around 40 lbs for the role and the results show his commitment to the role and how skilled an actor he is. Amy Adams provides a multi-faceted performance in the form of Sydney; she’s intelligent, at times ruthless and sexy as hell. Adams shows us all these sides to her that helps us wonder which side her character really is on in this thrilling con game. Bradley Cooper is an absolute hoot as the over eager FBI agent Richie, he really does make your side split with some of the remarks he comes out with. Jeremy Renner manages to give us a sympathetic character as Carmine, the mayor who makes bad decisions for good reasons and as a result is drawn into the operations. Rounding out the main cast is Jennifer Lawrence as the unstable and spurned Rosalyn. Lawrence really is hysterical in this movie and the film gains a certain vibrancy and spontaneity whenever Rosalyn is onscreen as you wonder what she will possibly do next.
Snappy, hysterical and all round good fun, American Hustle is stylish and well executed. The substance may be slightly lacking, yet you will probably not notice because of the stunning central performances provided. American Hustle is some of the most fun I’ve had at the cinema for a while.