Film Reviews

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS

By • Jan 4th, 2017 •

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Brilliant. My choice for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Actress, Best Cinematography, Best Screenplay and even Best Hair. This is Tom Ford’s “La Côte Basque, 1965.”

This is Tom Ford’s “La Côte Basque, 1965.” Truman Capote’s 13,000-word article, published in Esquire, is acknowledged to have destroyed him. At least socially, Capote’s world –  populated with rich women married to powerful men –  was over. He was, in Scientology-speak, deemed an “SP”. Scientologists are forbidden to have anything to do with a “Suppressive Person” and after Esquire published “La Côte Basque, 1965”, Capote was condemned to live as a New York Untouchable. Capote must have resented being the court jester to women neglected by their husbands. He betrayed his closest friends by revealing their secrets. No one important ever took his calls again.

Writer/director Tom Ford brings his knowledge of a certain strata of society to authentic use in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. Most people cannot afford his clothes or his shoes (it has been estimated that less than 4,000 women can spend a hundred thousand dollars on one couture gown), but movies are democratic. No matter your position in society, everybody can go to the movies.

Unless your father is a generous billionaire, marrying and staying married to a billionaire is not a Sunday walk in the park. It takes cunning and Machiavellian stagecraft to stay in the orbit of the fabulously wealthy. These few thousand women know what they represent to couture designers. They expect a high level of adulation and VIP treatment. Tom Ford knows the lives of the women who buy his couture masterpieces.

It’s this world Ford knows so well and he has mined it in his second directorial effort.

In a world where “You can never be too rich or too thin,” Ford starts his film with naked obese women dancing on a stage. Boldly and without shame, the women are provocateurs in the world of elegantly starved women who possess a cold demure and an intentional “curated” lifestyle.

I hate the word “curated.” Everything nowadays is “curated.” It has overtaken the vile word “eponymous.”

The dramatic “obese-women-dancing-naked” is the presentation mounted by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) to accompany an artist’s exhibition at her gallery. Susan is immaculately turned-out. She has a staff that makes life’s little time-numbing details go away. Her husband is her perfect counterpoint. Overly handsome, Hutton Marrow (Armie Hammer) has the breeding and aristocratic lineage that suits Susan’s standards.

Hutton is cheating on Susan and she knows it. She is too sophisticated to approach Hutton with his infidelity. Left alone for a weekend while Hutton is in New York at a “business meeting”, Susan has time to read a manuscript that has just arrived from Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Edward was Susan’s former lover. As Susan reads the manuscript of the novel, the film shifts to the story.

Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) is an ordinary guy, driving through Texas with his wife, Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber). They are harassed by three thugs led by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Getting run off the road and now with a flat tire, the taunting escalates. Tony tries to be conciliatory but Laura and Elle are defiant. Enraging Ray, he takes Laura and Elle away and Tony is driven to an isolated spot and dumped.

When Susan takes a break from the novel, she recalls the disastrous relationship she had with Tony. With the manuscript, is Tony finally expressing his long-held rage at Susan? Her mother, Anne Sutton (Laura Linney), lays out the landscape for her: Tony is not part of her class. He fancies himself a writer but doesn’t write. He lacks something vital to Susan – ambition. Susan is a high achiever and, her mother insists, she does not have the patience to nurture Tony’s talent. When Susan meets Hutton, she cruelly leaves Tony.

Susan returns to the manuscript. Tony manages to find his way back to a town and goes to the police for help finding Laura and Elle. Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), a cop with no more time left, agrees to help Tony. When they find Laura and India, they are naked, draped outside on a sofa. They have been sexually abused. Bobby will only help Tony find Ray, Lou (Karl Glusman) and Turk (Robert Aramayo), if Tony agrees to frontier justice.

All three stories are expressions of revenge. Whether served immediately, years later, or as a device in a manuscript.

For the first story – Susan’s story, Ford skill at presenting the superficiality her life is shown. She may live in an architectural mansion, but it’s cold and refuses to reveal anything about the people who live there. Susan’s perfect appearance is calculated and represents exactly what she wants people to think of her. She makes no mistakes in her presentation. In fact, Ford shows Susan always hiding one side of her face with her hair. She impenetrable. Hutton also has a structural personality that does not allow even a glimpse into his inner world.

Like one of Susan’s friends admits, when asking about being married to a gay man, in their social circle there are other things provided in place of being in love.

What about Edward? Is he happy about his impeding success? Can he finally release the pain and anger he has harbored against Susan?

Adams is terrific and a Best Actress nomination is hers. Gyllenhaal – as Edward and Tony – gives depth to each character. Shannon always takes his roles and nourishes his characters with far more than is on the page.

Ford is not only an accomplished and sensitive screenwriter, but he is a masterful director of his actors. The acting has a unity, meaning no one was directing themselves (as is the case much of the time).

It is a shame that Ford works so slowly but you can see that very detail is essential to telling the story in its most effective way – non-verbally. With NOCTURNAL ANIMALS coming four years after A SINGLE MAN, I hope the praise for  this film brings Ford projects he cannot dismiss.

Ford hasn’t burned his bridges with NOCTURNAL ANIMALS but it does showcase that a life we all think is perfect, has its regrettable compromises.

Member of Las Vegas Film Critics Society: www.lvfcs.org/.

Victoria Alexander lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and answers every email at victoria.alexander.lv@gmail.com.

 

 

 

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