Film review – Nocturnal Animals (Tom Ford, 2016)

Whilst Nocturnal Animals may be one of the most stylish and effecting pieces of cinematic art released in 2016, it may also suffer from being the second biggest Amy Adams film released in the month of November (Arrival is set to hit cinemas later this month). The films are targeted at a completely different audience, and if you’re interested in seeing Tom Ford’s latest then you need to know what you’re getting yourself in for. It’s a veritable misery-fest. And it’s absolutely breathtaking.

The film stars Adams as Susan Morrow, a hugely successful art gallery curator married to a handsome but unrelatable husband (Armie Hammer). Feeling like her life is unfulfilled, she unexpectedly receives a manuscript for a novel through the post from her ex-husband Eddie Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book, titled ‘Nocturnal Animals’, is dedicated to her. As she delves deeper into the grippingly horrific story – which plays out for the viewers with fabulous turns from Gyllenhaal, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon – we come to discover the history between Susan and Eddie and the inspiration for the story.

There were long periods of the film where I was so absolutely gripped by the fictional tale Gyllenhaal’s character was spinning – the film within a film – that I almost dated to forget that we were reading it with Adams’s Susan as she struggles with her insomnia. The meta-tale is brutally horrific, with the male central character experiencing the some of the worst experiences imaginable in life. It takes until quite near the end of the film to realise why he has written this story, and at this point we also remember the times Susan has thrown the book down in disgust. It’s easy enough to play out a story and leave a reveal until the very end. It’s quite something else to leave the audience so gripped in the journey.

Tom Ford executes every moment of the film with an unrivalled stylishness that was evident in his debut feature ‘A Single Man’. It is in the L.A. art scene that we see the characters inhabit the sort of regal living spaces most people can only dream of, despite their thin veneers here only acting as a cover for a desperately hollow existence.

The resoundingly successful final scene is an absolutely devestating act by Eddie. Susan is left emotionally drained following the reading of the manuscript that finally reveals his potential as a brilliant writer. It is also laced with accusations at Susan. She is left with no resolution. This is a clearly a reflection of how he felt after their relationship originally broke down. The answer is never clearly spelled out, with the audience left as smartly frustrated as Susan. This is a really intelligent move that epitomises the ability of Ford to sit the viewers firmly in the position of the people on the screen and ask themselves how they really feel.

It is a wonderful piece of cinema that I’ll be recommending to anyone who will listen.

American Hustle (David O’Russell, 2014)

Director David O’Russell has had a sudden upsurge in fortune. With his last film – Silver Linings Playbook – he finally realised the promise hinted at with his earlier attempts at cinematic quirky humour. It was both critically lauded and a commercial triumph. It was a must-see film. If you hadn’t seen it you wanted to, and once you’d seen it once you probably wanted to see it again. O’Russell’s stock had never been higher.

It was important, then, that he chose his next film wisely. I’d say American Hustle was exactly that – a wise choice. It’s a film set in 1970s New Jersey, and this allowed a lot of fun to be had with costuming and recreating an authentic world in which the characters can play. To bring the characters to life, he enlisted three key actors from last year’s triumph: Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Added to this he also brought Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner and Christian Bale. That is a formidable lead cast if ever you saw one.

The music is spot on. Mixing a superb score from Danny Elfman with some choice cuts from the era (think Elton John, America, Chicago), it all blends together to further enhance the authentic experience.

Yet, after 138 minutes of buying in to the story, I left the cinema feeling a little short changed. There’s enough humour to keep us smiling, some great playoffs between Adams and Lawrence who are at each other’s throats throughout, and the mild twists and turns in the plot are entertaining if not thrilling. I admired the solid performances from the all-star cast, none of whom underperformed but at the same time didn’t shine. The film had the feeling of playing it safe, and I thought there could have been more to it. The final payoff was predictable and in turn disappointing.

The main problem for me was that none of the characters were likeable. Adams and Bale are both untrustworthy con artists, Cooper is an FBI career man who wants a quick rise to the top, Lawrence is a degenerate waster who’s slow on the uptake, De Niro is a mafia overlord. Renner’s Mayor Polito is the only one I felt sympathy for, getting mixed up with the wrong people for the right reasons, but he’s not really a central character. I didn’t have anyone I felt the urge to back and for me that’s a flaw in the scriptwriting. I understand that the aim of the film may have been to portray the fact that nobody in this circle is likeable, but it just wasn’t carried off successfully. With so much time to develop the characters and such an amazing array of talent on offer, it could have been so much more.

American Hustle is out now in UK cinemas.