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Review – Nocturnal Animals (15) [2016]

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Star Rating 5/5

Director:

  • Tom Ford – A Single Man

Cast:

  • Amy Adams – Catch Me If You CanThe FighterThe MasterHerMan of SteelBig EyesBatman v Superman, Arrival
  • Jake Gyllenhaal – The Day After Tomorrow, Source Code, Prisoners, Southpaw, Stronger
  • Armie Hammer – Gossip Girl, The Social Network, Edgar, The Man From UNCLE, Jackpot
  • Isla Fisher – Wedding Crashers, Confessions of A Shopaholic, Now You See Me I & II, Keeping Up With The Joneses
  • Michael Shannon – Revolutionary Road,Take ShelterMudMan of Steel, Batman v SupermanElvis & Nixon
  • Ellie Bamber – The Falling, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, The Nutcracker and the Four Realms
  • Laura Linney – The Truman Show, Love Actually, John Adams, The Dinner
  • Andrea Riseborough – Shadow Dancer, Oblivion, Birdman, National Treasure, The Death of Stalin
  • Michael Sheen – Frost/Nixon, Twilight II & IV(i)-(ii), Alice In Wonderland I & II, Passengers
  • Karl Glusman – Love, Stonewall, The Neon Demon, Above Suspicion
  • Robert Aramayo – Game of Thrones, The Empty Man, Lost In Florence
  • Aaron Taylor-Johnson – Nowhere Boy, Kick-Ass I & II, Godzilla, The Wall

Music Composer:

  • Abel Korzeniowski – A Single Man, W.E., Romeo & Juliet, Penny Dreadful

The Light Between Oceans (TLBO) looked like a film that, at first glance, was Oscar material. It had the cast, the ideas and the cinematography to be a great film. But it was a total mess of a movie and a real disappointment. By way of contrast, Nocturnal Animals has similar components. Only, it is brilliant.

Susan (Amy Adams), alone in her mansion, drinking whiskey. She has such sad eyes that are full of the deepest of emotions.

Susan (Amy Adams), alone in her mansion, drinking whiskey. She has such blue and sad eyes that are full of the deepest of emotions.

Nocturnal Animals is a film based on the 1993 book, Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright. Susan (Amy Adams) is a modern-art gallery owner. One day, as her second husband, Walker (Armie Hammer), goes off on a ‘business trip,’ Susan gets a package in the post. It is from her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom Susan left twenty years ago. He has sent her a manuscript of his new book, entitled ‘Nocturnal Animals,’ and wants to hear her opinion.

Alone in her beautiful mansion overlooking LA, Susan picks up the manuscript and begins reading it. However, as she reads it, she is forced to relive and confront some demons from her past. Notably: her marriage to Edward and why it broke down.

Nocturnal Animals is full of suspense, tense and gripping. It is a phenomenal story within a story movie, in which both stories are fascinating for very different reasons: the first is about Susan/Amy Adams, who lives the high (empty) life in LA, but is deeply unhappy; the second is about a good family, consisting of Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), Laura (Isla Fisher, who bears an uncanny resemblance to Amy Adams), and India (Ellie Bamber), on their way to a vacation that goes violently wrong, and a thirst for justice/vengeance ensues. Both stories could be feature films in their own rights. Yet, Director Tom Ford links them together superbly so that the second story enhances our understanding of the first and is a metaphor for it.

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Edward) and detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) in the rocky plains in the middle of nowhere in Texas, searching for the scene of the crime.

Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Edward) and detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) in the rocky plains in the middle of nowhere in Texas, searching for the scene of the crime.

Like TLBO, Nocturnal Animals deals with a plethora of complex issues, such as love, regret, people turning into their parents, justice, revenge, and actions having consequences. But unlike TLBO, Nocturnal Animals gives substance to these issues and the result makes for a deeply satisfying watch.

Suffice to say, the whole cast excels. Amy Adams is the standout performer as the successful but emotionally broken main character, who became everything she did not want to be; Jake Gyllenhaal fits seamlessly into both the sensitive Edward and the traumatised Tony; Michael Shannon feels genuine as the detective tracking down the sick thugs who commit the heinous crimes on Tony’s family; and Aaron Taylor-Johnson is unrecognisable as the leading hillbilly hoodlum.

Furthermore, Ford’s style of directing and the music heighten the tension throughout the movie. Ford holds onto scenes (particularly the horrific ones) for longer than audiences would like. This induces fear and an unnerving sensation into viewers. The music augments this with pulsing thuds and plucky string noises to further unsettle audiences.

Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking like he is about to break into sadistic laughter.

Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) looking like he is about to break into sadistic laughter.

And if that weren’t enough, the locations add an organic terror. Nocturnal Animals lacks the beauty of landscapes such as those seen in The Way Back, The Revenant and TLBO. But the fine-looking houses have a dangerous edge, as if they suck one into a vacuous void that one cannot get out of; and the deserted planes of the Deep South, the long highways, and the abandoned dusty shacks in the middle of nowhere (where one imagines unspeakable crimes occurring in the real world) ramp up the tension to intolerable levels.

All-in-all, Nocturnal Animals is an outstanding movie. It is an arresting thriller that is absolutely flawless both narratively and in its execution. While TLBO looked like Oscar material but failed to live up to its own (high) standards, Nocturnal Animals looks the part and succeeds in the most impressive and profound ways.

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Review – Source Code (12a) [2011]

Star Rating: 3/5

A friend of mine billed Source Code as ‘The Matrix meets Minority Report.’ While this may be a tad broad, it is not an entirely inaccurate explanation of Source Code. Although a Sci-fi film at its core, Source Code is more enjoyable to the general public than many other titles in its genre and will leave one thinking afterwards too.

Source Code is about sending someone into a computer-regeneration of a specific incident in the past in order to find out (useful) information. Throughout the movie, Colter Stevens (Jake Gyllenhaal – Rendition, Brothers, Nocturnal Animals), a US soldier in a helicopter unit, is constantly sent into the Source Code for an eight-minute stint. Each time, Colter finds himself on a train sitting opposite the cute-looking Christina (Michelle Monaghan – Mission Impossible III, Eagle Eye, Due Date); and at the end of the eight minutes, the train blows up. Himself included.

Earlier, a bomb went off on a train in Chicago and it is rumoured that another one will go off in the middle of the same city later that day. Colter’s task is to find the bomb and discover information about the bomber. His superiors, the pretty Captain Colleen Goodwin (Vera Farmiga – The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas, Up in the Air, The Judge) and Dr. Rutledge (Jeffrey Wright – Casino Royale, W., The Ides of March) believe that the information could be crucial in deterring the next attack. Yet, after going into the Source Code a few times, Colter’s motives change. He intends not only to complete his mission; but also to save the passengers on the train and ask out Christina.

Source Code’s plot has numerous holes that one can pick at without difficulty. It can also feel quite repetitive at times. The director, Duncan Jones (Moon), a relative novice to the industry, puts forward some interesting ideas that bring to mind tenuous comparisons to The Matrix for de facto teleporting someone into a computer-generated world; and Minority Report for preventing an incident from occurring by using highly futuristic and technologically advanced methods. Yet, Jones also leaves several aspects of the plot with a lot of explaining to do; most notably the paradox of time-travelling and the ending.

One thing, however, that works in Source Code’s favour is that it does not descend into a mushy love-story like so many other films. The dialogue is not bad either and there are humorous moments too. Again, Jones fails to explain the quantum physics behind the invention of the Source Code; but, speculatively-speaking, he has done this deliberately knowing that the majority of the film’s viewers will neither understand nor be interested in such terminology.

Captain Colleen Goodwin and Dr. Rutledge urging Colter to go back into the Source Code so as to unearth more information about the bomb and the bomber.

That Jake Gyllenhaul plays well as the main character gives the movie the credence the plot lacks. He is not given a particularly challenging role, but he still performs decently enough. The same can be said for the other members of the cast. Michelle Monaghan, Vera Farmiga and Jeffrey Wright may act competently; however, they are not given enough screen-time for their characters to be anything other than two-dimensional.

Alike the acting, the choreography is fine. For a movie that is cyclic and teleports the main character suddenly and regularly, it does not feel overly jerky to watch. This takes some skill and credit must go to Jones for this.

All-in-all, Source Code is a surprisingly entertaining film. It has a decent cast, some good jokes and clever ideas. Nevertheless, the storyline is deeply flawed and the ending rubber-stamps it. Ironically though, the film’s very flaws are what will keep viewers thinking long after the film finishes.

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