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FILM REVIEW: Nocturnal Animals (Ford, 2016): USA

Viewed by Larry Gleeson at Venice Film Festival.

 

Fashion Designer and Film Director Tom premiered his new film, Nocturnal Animals, at the Sala Grande Theater during the 73rd Venice International Film Festival. Nocturnal Animals received the Silver Lion – Grand Jury Prize (generally considered runner-up to the Golden Lion – Best Film). This was Ford’s second feature film. His first film was the critically acclaimed, A Single Man (2009) starring Colin Firth. Firth receiving an Oscar nomination for Best Performance by an Actor in a Leading Role for his efforts.

 

Nocturnal Animals, is a tale of redemption, revenge, love and cruelty. Ford opens the film with a strong musical score to reveal rotund, morbidly obese girls dancing topless upon pedestals seemingly pretending to be debutantes. Adding to the fanfare special effect confetti drops down and through the frame. All-American girls showcasing their goods and talents. Bordering on the macabre, the tone for the film has been set.

 

Hollywood, A-lister Amy Adams plays a real-life West Texas debutante, Susan Morrow, who lives an unfulfilling life of daunting privilege with her handsome husband, Hutton Morrow, played by Armie Hammer. As Hutton prepares for yet another last-minute weekend high-finance business meeting in New York relationship fissures widen. A pensive Susan reflects on the state of her union with Hutton after a ‘not-so-discreet’ phone conversation from Hutton’s elevator arriving at a penthouse suite amid feminine gaiety as she opens a plain, white, mail shipping box. Susan opens the box to a black and white manuscript titled, “Nocturnal Animals,” by Edward Sheffield, Susan’s former husband and first true love.

 

In dramatic fashion, Ford begins a journey into the past yet grounded in the present as the manuscript opens up a world fictional, yet etched within Susan’s consciousness. Using parallel storylines, present and fictional coupled with flashbacks to when Edward and Susan first met and the ensuing courtship and short-lived marriage. Laura Linney, plays Susan’s West Texas Republican mother, and delivers some of the film’s more memorable lines during a martini lunch where she unleashes her verbal diatribe lambasting Susan for even considering a marriage to “weak’ Edward. Notwithstanding, however, the real storytelling takes place within the pages of the manuscript. Self-reflective and dramatic the narrative is full of conflict and escalating tensions as a husband and wife, Tony and Laura Hastings, played respectively by Jake Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher, travel at night across rural West Texas with their teenage daughter, India, played by Ellie Bamber. Without even as much as a lit billboard, out of a pitch dark blackness a vehicle approaches the family’s suburban mid-sized car at a high-rate of speed. The car is driven erratically and its occupants are behaving wildly as they pass. Not too much to worry about until they decide to force the Hastings car off the road. Mayhem ensues as the hellions carjack the Hastings vehicle with the women inside leaving Tony on the side of the road in the dark by his lonesome. Soon a vehicle returns to pick up Tony. He’s informed he gang leader wants to make amends and that Laura and India want Tony brought to where they are being held hostage. Fearing the worst Tony manages to escape and eventually makes his way to a law enforcement office to make an abduction/missing persons report to lawman Bobby Andes, played by Michael Shannon. Susan is shocked and awed at the power of Edward’s writing and the visceral strength of Edward’s character, Tony. By the end of the manuscript, Susan’s life perspective has shifted as she and Edward make plans to meet.

Unquestionably, Ford delivers an emotional and psychological thriller with Nocturnal Animals. Superb acting, exquisite production values and strong storytelling are the film’s hallmarks. Shane Valentino (Straight Outta Compton) handled the film’s production design. Seamus McGarvey (Godzilla, Atonement, The Avengers) provided the cinematography. Costuming was assembled by Arianne Phillips (Kingsman: The Secret Service, Walk The Line, 3:10 To Yuma). Abel Korzeniowski (A Single Man, We) orchestrated the music. Along with directing Ford takes a screenplay writing credit along with Austin Wright, the author of “Tony and Susan,”  for writing the novel the film is based on. Nevertheless, the Casting Director, Francine Maisler (The Revenant, Birdman, The Big Short, 12 Years a Slave) and performances by the actors are above and beyond. This is a Don’t Miss film waiting for Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences nominations. The Oscars.

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TRAILER: Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals

From writer/director Tom Ford comes a haunting romantic thriller of shocking intimacy and gripping tension that explores the thin lines between love and cruelty, and revenge and redemption. Academy Award nominees Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star as a divorced couple discovering dark truths about each other and themselves in Nocturnal Animals.

A Focus Features presentation of a Fade To Black production. A Tom Ford Film. Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal. Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Karl Glusman, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen. Casting by Francine Maisler, CSA. Costume Designer, Arianne Phillips. Music, Abel Korzeniowski. Film Editor, Joan Sobel, ACE. Production Designer, Shane Valentino. Director of Photography, Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC. Co-Producer, Diane L. Sabatini. Based upon the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. Produced by Tom Ford, p.g.a., Robert Salerno, p.g.a. Screenplay by Tom Ford. Directed by Tom Ford. A Focus Features Release.

(Excerpt from Nocturnal Animals Press Notes)

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS
(ctr l-r.) Academy Award nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon star as Tony Hastings and Bobby Andes in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Universal Pictures International release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Universal Pictures International

Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals

From writer/director Tom Ford comes a haunting romantic thriller of shocking intimacy and gripping tension that explores the thin lines between love and cruelty, and revenge and redemption. Academy Award nominees Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star as a divorced couple discovering dark truths about each other and themselves in Nocturnal Animals.

Susan Morrow (portrayed by Ms. Adams) lives an incredibly privileged yet unfulfilled life with her husband Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer). One weekend, as Hutton departs on one of his too-frequent business trips, Susan receives an unsolicited package that has been left in her mailbox. It is a novel, “Nocturnal Animals,” written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Mr. Gyllenhaal), with whom she has had no contact for years. Edward’s note accompanying the manuscript encourages Susan to read the work and then to contact him during his visit to the city. Alone at night, in bed, Susan begins reading. The novel is dedicated to her…

…but its content is violent and devastating, as Edward tells the tale of Tony Hastings (also portrayed by Mr. Gyllenhaal). Driving across a lonely stretch of Texas one night, Tony and his family are harassed by a trio of joyriders, and forced off the road into a confrontation initiated by the gang’s ringleader, the disturbingly insinuating Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Tony is all but powerless to act as his family is kidnapped and he is left stranded. When day breaks, Tony manages to reach the police for help, and laconic Lieutenant Bobby Andes (Academy Award nominee Michael Shannon) takes on the case. Andes forges a strong connection with the distraught Tony, and dedicates himself to pursuing the suspects once Tony’s worst fears are realized…

Moved by Edward’s writing, Susan cannot help but reminisce over the most private moments from her own love story with the author. Trying to look within herself and beyond the glossy surface of the life and career that she has made, Susan increasingly interprets the book as a tale of revenge, a tale that forces her to re-evaluate the choices that she has made, and re-awakens a love that she feared was lost – as the story builds to a reckoning that will define both the novel’s hero and her own.

 

27492-Nocturnal_Animals_2____Merrick_Morton_Universal_Pictures_International.jpg
(l-r.) Academy Award nominees Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon star as Tony Hastings and Bobby Andes in writer/director Tom Ford’s romantic thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, a Universal Pictures International release. Credit: Merrick Morton/Universal Pictures International

 

This is a beautifully shot film. With credits being overlaid, the spectacular opening sequence, complete with confetti special effects, not only sets the tone for a splendid cinematic experience, it also provides psychological value into Amy Adams’ character, Susan while illuminating the film’s contextual structure and framework. Furthermore, I can’t say, I’ve seen a better cast film. Jake Gyllenhaal continues to expand his acting repertoire as Edward. Michael Shannon turns in a powerful, tour de force performance as a cancer-striken Texas lawman. Laura Linney nails the role of aristocratic mother to Adam’s Susan – delivering a few of the film’s most memorable lines. But the actor that caught my attention above and beyond was Aaron Taylor-Johnson as a wild, log-haired, maniaical, hellion leading the vicious roadside assault inside Edward’s novel. In addition, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher, Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough, and Karl Glusman all give compelling performances. My hat off to Francine Maisler for her casting.

For a second directorial effort, Ford makes a phenomenal leap. His first effort, A Single Man, starring Colin Firth, is an exceptionally solid film. Most enjoyable with considerable depth. Notwithstanding, Nocturnal Animals is a whole other beast – it’s powerful storytelling with strong production values encapsulated in a style that spans genres utilizing techniques in the form of cross-cutting, parallel story lines, flashbacks and real-time moments without confusion. Brilliant work!

A must see film…

 

A Focus Features presentation of a Fade To Black production. A Tom Ford Film. Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal. Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Karl Glusman, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen. Casting by Francine Maisler, CSA. Costume Designer, Arianne Phillips. Music, Abel Korzeniowski. Film Editor, Joan Sobel, ACE. Production Designer, Shane Valentino. Director of Photography, Seamus McGarvey, ASC, BSC. Co-Producer, Diane L. Sabatini. Based upon the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. Produced by Tom Ford, p.g.a., Robert Salerno, p.g.a. Screenplay by Tom Ford. Directed by Tom Ford. A Focus Features Release.

(Excerpt from Nocturnal Animals Press Notes)