NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (USA/16/117mins) Directed by Tom Ford. Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Michael Sheen THE PLOT: Susan Morro (Amy Adams) seems to have everything in life; a beautiful home, a charming husband (Armie Hammer) and a fulfilling job as an art gallery owner, but she still feels unfulfilled and restless. When her ex-band Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her a copy of the novel that he has finally finished writing, Susan finds herself engrossed with the tale of Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), and one horrifying event that changes his life forever. As Susan becomes more obsessed with the story she is reading, she realises the connections between this tale, and the past she had with Edward. THE VERDICT: Based on the novel ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is the first feature film from fashion designer turned director Tom Ford since ‘A Single Man’ in 2009. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is stylish, violent and beautifully shot by Seamus McGarvey, and is as engaging as it is horrifying.
Amy Adams leads the cast as Susan Morrow, a woman who seems to have everything, but feels as though she has nothing. Adams brings a stillness to the role that is engaging and fascinating, and it is through her eyes that we experience not only the story of her own past, but the novel that she us reading. Jake Gyllenhaal takes on the dual roles of Susan’s ex-husband Edward and the protagonist of the novel; Tony Hastings. We see Gyllenhaal much more in the role of Tony, and he makes the character tenacious and terrified; an intoxicating and engaging combination. Gyllenhaal seems only to have been cast in the dual role in order to make a statement about Susan’s past with her ex-husband Edward, and simply having the same actor in both roles is enough to make that message clear. Michael Shannon plays a familiar but effective role as Bobby Andes, the police officer in Edward’s novel, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson ramps up the creepy and absurd as Ray Marcus, the villain of the novel. The rest of the cast is impressive, and is made up of Andrea Riseborough, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen, Jena Malone and Karl Glusman.
Tom Ford adapted Wright’s novel for the screen, and makes the tricky idea of telling a story within a story work incredibly well. As mentioned, Gyllenhaal’s performances as Edward and the fictional Tony anchor the two together, and while both stories are painfully different, it is through Susan reading the novel – titled, by the way, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ – that we learn about her relationship with her ex husband, and how the ending of the same affected him. The violence and excitement of the film come from Susan’s reading of the novel – which is shown on screen – and it is Adams’ stillness that allows this messy and bloody tale to work so well. Having Susan take breaks from the novel – we are only involved when she is – allows the audience to take a breath from some of the horrors of the novel, and also makes the pacing of the film a little less relentless than it could have been.
As director Tom Ford makes the film engrossing and ghastly as violent events play out on screen. The performances in the film are terrific – Adams and Gyllenhaal are to be particularly commended – with the exception of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose over the top and schlocky performance does not fit in with the rest of the film. There are times when the pacing struggles however, as Susan drifts through the “real world” and Tony’s tale in the novel feels as though it hit a brick wall. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography adds to the horror of the novel and the rich boredom that Adams’ character is experiencing, and makes even the most brutal of moments seem ethereal and engaging.
In all, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is violent, strange, complicated and utterly engrossing. Tom Ford has made a beautifully horrifying film that not only reveals two stories in the most subtle of ways, but draws the audience in from the start. RATING: 4/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE LIGHT BETWEEN OCEANS (UK | New Zealand | USA/12A/133mins) Directed by Derek Cianfrance. Starring Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Florence Clery, Jack Thompson THE PLOT: When Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) returns to Australia after World War I, he takes a posting as a lighthouse keeper on the remote Janus Island, saying “I’m just looking to get away from things for a little while”. After he marries Isabel Greysmark (Alicia Vikander) the two return to their isolated home with dreams of building a life together. Isabel suffers two miscarriages and is reaching despair when a boat washes ashore carrying a baby girl and a dead man. Seizing the opportunity, the Sherbournes take the baby in as their own, but years later discover that the baby’s mother is alive and has no idea her daughter survived the tragedy that claimed her husband. THE VERDICT: Based on the book of the same name by M. L. Stedman, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is a romantic period drama with a twist, directed by Derek Cianfrance, who previously brought us Blue Valentine and ‘The Place Between the Pines’.
Michael Fassbender leads the cast as the tortured and romantic hero Tom. Keeping the character stoic but with a strong moral compass, Fassbender is strong in the role and has some lovely scenes with the young actresses who play the couple’s adopted daughter at various stages of her life. Alicia Vikander is charming as Isabel, and makes the character’s desperation for a child feel palpable with her performance. Rachel Weisz rounds out the central cast, and does well as a woman who is as lost as her baby is.
As screenwriter, Derek Cianfrance has adapted M.L. Stedman’s script for the big screen, and does well with the first half of the film in terms of pacing and allowing the audience to get to know the characters. The idea that it is the woman who wants to keep a baby that is not hers is one that feels rather familiar and cliché, and Cianfrance does little to shake this notion from the film. The second half of the film, where the mystery and morality tale truly kick in, is surprisingly the slower half, where the characters spend time back and forth between the mainland and the island, and many questions raised are never answered.
As director, Cianfrance tries his best to keep the film moving at a steady pace, but struggles in the second half, leaving the film to get bogged down by the to-ing and fro-ing of the characters. The performances are strong if a little twee, and although this film is designed to be a tearjerker, there is too much skimmed over for ‘The Light Between Oceans’ to be anything but drawn out and meandering. As well as this, the drama is never truly amped up enough for the film to grip the audience, leaving us drifting along with the story and hoping for a pick up in pace. Adam Arkapaw’s cinematography is beautiful however, and truly shows off the beauty found at the end of the world.
In all, ‘The Light Between Oceans’ is neither as dramatic or emotional as it should be. Vikander, Fassbender and Weisz are strong in their roles, but they are undermined by a soupy storyline and a reliance on saccharine sweetness to carry the story. RATING: 3/5 Review by Brogen Hayes
THE ACCOUNTANT (USA/15A/128mins) Directed by Gavin O’Connor. Starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons, Jon Bernthal, Jeffrey Tambor THE PLOT: Christian Wolff (Ben Affleck) is a highly intelligent accountant with a reputation for rooting out the most devious instances of creative accounting. He is hired by new client Lamar (John Lithgow) to investigate a potential fraud committed in his company. By uncooking the books, he will reveal the culprit. He receives some unwanted help from perky fellow accountant Dana (Anna Kendrick), but Christian greets her with a frosty reception. He is a maths savant with autism, lacking in social skills and has an ability to be blunt with people most of the time. He also has a particular set of skills, which make him a nightmare for people who double-cross him or do not let him finish his work. On his trail is corporate assassin Brax (Jon Bernthal) and FBI Agent Marybeth (Cynthia Addai-Robinson), who is investigating a series of deaths connected to a mysterious individual known only as The Accountant.
THE VERDICT: “Calculate your choices’ is the tagline for ‘The Accountant’. It is an apt description for this tense thriller that belies the initially dull-sounding title to become a very particular character piece, with some unexpected plot twists and an offbeat sense of humour.
Having lost his way somewhat with the troubled, under-whelming ‘Jane Got A Gun’, Gavin O’Connor is back on form with ‘The Accountant’. The script, by Bill Dubuque, sat on the famed Hollywood Blacklist for several years until it finally went into production. It is certainly a story that stands out from the crowd and is more intelligent than the usual studio-produced thriller. The strongest point here is Christian – or at least the autistic man we get to know under the name of Christian. O’Connor and Dubuque spend time on some well-placed flashbacks to Christian’s childhood, where he had difficulty fitting in with others and had an inner rage that his military father tapped into. That rage later manifested itself in a deadly, ruthless ability in rubbing out people who challenge him. Christian is definitely a sharpshooter who shoots first and asks questions later.
As essayed by Affleck in a concentrated, well-defined performance, Christian is a character to be reckoned with. But it is also through the eyes of other characters that we observe Christian’s behaviour, such as the unflappable Dana – and who better than Kendrick to play her? Christian is not without a sense of humour, even if it is a bit bewildering and hard to swallow at first. O’Connor takes his time with the story, letting it unfold like a peeling onion – one that stings of course. The film is funnier than its ostensibly sombre tone suggests – another plus point.
Those expecting a Jason Statham-style film where there is a shoot-out or fight sequence every ten minutes will be disappointed. Those expecting a more measured, clinical dissection of how a killer is both born and made will find much to enjoy in ‘The Accountant’. When the shoot-outs and fight sequences come, they are crunchy, fast and pack a punch. Pretty much like this lean, mean film itself. ‘The Accountant’ is not a calculated risk and is worth your hard-earned dough. RATING: 4/5 Review by Gareth O’Connor
A STREET CAT NAMED BOB (UK/12A/103mins) Directed by Roger Spottiswoode. Starring Luke Treadaway, Anthony Head, Bob the Cat, Joanne Froggatt, Ruth Gedmintas THE PLOT: James (Luke Treadaway) is homeless and struggling to overcome drug addiction. Busking on the streets for money, James’s luck begins to change when he is awarded emergency housing. On his first night in his new home, James gets an unexpected visitor; a ginger cat. When the cat won’t leave James and Bob – as the cat comes to be named – become fast friends, even busking together, making new friends and reconnecting with old ones. THE VERDICT: ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ is based on the true story of James Bowen, and the book of the same name. The tagline “Sometimes it takes nine lives to save one” is a little on the trite side, but there is a warmth and sweetness to ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’, as well as one of the best feline performances of the year.
Luke Treadaway leads the cast as James, and makes the character one that the audience roots for. Full of dignity and hope for the future, James struggles to get his life together, but Treadaway makes sure that the character remains sweet and gentle. The relationship between Bob – playing himself for most of the film – is lovely and warm, with Bob becoming therapist, friend and companion to James. Ruta Gedmintas plays Belle, new neighbour of James, and the one who decides what Bob’s name is. Gedmintas obviously has fun with her quirky vegan warrior character, and the friendship between Belle and James is charming. There is a hint of a love story at times, but this is wisely scrapped in favour of allowing the characters to flourish on their own. The rest of the cast features Anthony Stewart Head, Joanne Froggatt, Beth Goddard and Darren Evans.
Screenwriters Tim John and Maria Nation adapted James Bowen and Garry Jenkins’s book for the big screen, and they play up the relationship between feline and human. The times when James speaks to Bob feel as though he is talking to a friend, rather than an animal, and it is this that not only makes the film work, but creates much of its charm. There are times when the film errs on the side of twee and saccharine sweet, but there is enough real drama in the film to make up for this.
Director Roger Spottiswoode paces the film evenly, and makes each character likeable, even the ones who create adversity in James and Bob’s lives are shown in a sympathetic light, which makes for interesting watching in a film where the lead character is a recovering drug addict. Bob is rightfully the focus of the film, and he easily steals the show and adds warmth and heart to the story.
In all, ‘A Street Cat Named Bob’ is a gentle, sweet and warm story that struggles through some twee and saccharine sweet moments. The film recovers, however, due to a strong cast and the best kitty performance on screen since ‘Inside Llewyn Davis’. RATING: 3.5/5 Review by Brogen Hayes