Smart read­ing of a melo­drama

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film Reviews -

t has been a long wait since A Sin­gle Man (2009) for the sec­ond fea­ture from fash­ion de­signer turned direc­tor Tom Ford, but Nocturnal An­i­mals, which won the Sil­ver Lion in Venice this year, is well worth it. This haunt­ing amal­ga­ma­tion of film noir and pulp fic­tion is an in­tri­cately struc­tured and com­pletely riv­et­ing af­fair that un­folds on two lev­els and in two styles: as a do­mes­tic melo­drama and as a re­venge thriller.

The film opens with an ex­tra­or­di­nary se­quence in which a group of over­weight women, al­most nude ex­cept for some march­ing band frip­peries, gazes at the cam­era while Abel Korzeniowski’s stir­ring mu­sic pounds the sound­track; these women, it tran­spires, are the lat­est in­stal­la­tion in a trendy Los An­ge­les art gallery owned by Su­san Mor­row (Amy Adams), one of those women who has ev­ery­thing and noth­ing. She lives in an ugly steel-and-glass house over­look­ing the city and is painfully aware that her fi­nancier hus­band Walker (Ar­mie Ham­mer) is not only un­faith­ful but in fi­nan­cial dif­fi­cul­ties. It’s at this tip­ping point in Su­san’s life that she re­ceives, out of the blue, the man­u­script of a novel, Nocturnal An­i­mals, writ­ten by her first hus­band, Ed­ward (Jake Gyl­len­haal), whom she hasn’t seen for 19 years.

As she starts to read, the book’s nar­ra­tive be­comes part of the film. Tony (also Gyl­len­haal) is driv­ing at night through west Texas with his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their spoiled teenage daugh­ter In­dia (El­lie Bam­ber) when they’re forced off the road by a car­load of hoons led by Ray (Aaron Tay­lor-John­son). In the af­ter­math of this chill­ing en­counter, Tony finds him­self al­lied with an un­con­ven­tional Texan de­tec­tive, Bobby An­des, bril­liantly played by Michael Shan­non.

As Su­san delves deeper into the trau­matic events de­picted in Ed­ward’s book she also re­mem­bers the time they spent to­gether two decades ear­lier — both Adams and Gyl­len­haal man­age to look con­vinc­ingly younger in these scenes — and why their re­la­tion­ship broke down; Su­san’s ap­palling mother (a deliri­ous cameo from Laura Lin­ney) seems to have been a ma­jor fac­tor in the sep­a­ra­tion.

Since his first fea­ture, Ford has re­fined his tech­nique to the ex­tent that his new film, which is based on a novel, Tony and Su­san, by Austin Wright, is a be­witch­ing blend of clas­si­cal and modernist cin­ema. At times nail-bit­ingly sus­pense­ful, at other times de­li­ciously bitchy (there are cher­ish­able cameos from Michael Sheen, An­drea Rise­bor­ough and Jena Malone among oth­ers), the film is head and shoul­ders above the typ­i­cal tired Hol­ly­wood pro­duc­tion that comes down the assem­bly line these days. Much the same could be said for Ar­rival, an- Amy Adams plays a dis­af­fected art gallery­ery owner inn Nocturnal An­i­mals,An­i­mals above; Adams with JeremJeremy Ren­ner inn right other unusu­ally in­tel­li­gent and smart pro­duc­tion — it’s ob­vi­ous we’re near­ing the Os­car sea­son again when films such as these are be­ing re­leased just in time to score nom­i­na­tions, which they well may. This is a film about aliens who ar­rive on Earth and be­fore you can say In­de­pen­dence Day it’s ob­vi­ous that Cana­dian direc­tor De­nis Vil­leneuve and screen­writer Eric Heis­serer have some­thing more thought­ful in mind than a mere pop­corn movie.

Like its cin­e­matic fore­bears The Day the Earth Stood Still (the 1951 ver­sion) and Steven Spiel­berg’s Close En­coun­ters of the Third Kind, Ar­rival is a film that in­vites au­di­ences to think about what might hap­pen if visi­tors from outer space did, in­deed, reach Earth. How would we com­mu­ni­cate and could the Earth’s na­tions co­op­er­ate in their ap­proach to the visi­tors?

The film be­gins by in­tro­duc­ing Dr Louise Banks, a role in which the gifted Amy Adams gives yet an­other mem­o­rable per­for­mance. Re­cov­er­ing from a tragedy (her beloved daugh­ter was stricken with can­cer), Banks teaches lin­guis­tics at an east­ern univer­sity, but her class is in­ter­rupted with the news that a dozen strange ob­jects, pre­sum­ably space­craft, have ar­rived and are hov­er­ing just above the sur­face on lo­ca­tions across the globe, in­clud­ing Aus­tralia, Rus­sia and China. These egg-shaped ve­hi­cles — which look a lit­tle like the Sky­lon cre­ated for the 1951 Fes­ti­val of Britain — are sim­ply float­ing in the air, wait­ing for some­thing, but for what?

Banks agrees to ac­com­pany a mil­i­tary of­fi­cer, We­ber (For­est Whi­taker), and Dr Ian Con­nelly (Jeremy Ren­ner), a the­o­ret­i­cal physi­cist, to the lo­ca­tion of the Amer­i­can land­ing, which is lo­cated in ru­ral Mon­tana. Her role is to try to com­mu­ni­cate with who­ever is on board the craft and to pose the es­sen­tial ques­tions: Why have you come? Are your in­ten­tions peace­ful? Scenes of con­tact in this sort of sci-fi film are al­ways fas­ci­nat­ing, and Ar­rival con­tains some of the best. Banks’s en­counter with the aliens and her ef­forts to un­der­stand them are qui­etly riv­et­ing and tes­ti­mony to the se­ri­ous in­ten­tions of Vil­leneuve (who is in pro­duc­tion of the lon­gawaited se­quel to Blade Run­ner.)

The film also ex­plores the fraught re­la­tion­ship be­tween sci­en­tists, gov­ern­ments and the me­dia, and throws in­ter­na­tional ten­sions into the mix. While ig­no­rant shock jocks call for ac­tion against the in­vaders, gov­ern­ments around the world at­tempt, at least for a while, to present a united front in what is, to put it mildly, a chal­leng­ing sit­u­a­tion.

Vis­ually the film is as im­pres­sive as you may wish, and the sense of un­ease is aug­mented by the off­beat mu­sic score by Jo­hann Jo­hanns­son. In this film and Nocturnal An­i­mals, Adams lays claim to be one of the finest movie ac­tors of her gen­er­a­tion. She’s for­tu­nate to have been cast in two such distin­guished films that, co­in­ci­den­tally, have been re­leased into cin­e­mas al­most si­mul­ta­ne­ously. She is not, how­ever, the only mem­o­rable el­e­ment in Ar­rival, a film that takes a genre that in­vari­ably has been the ba­sis for schlock ( In­de­pen­dence Day and oth­ers) and in­fuses it with a level of se­ri­ous­ness that’s thought-pro­vok­ing and sat­is­fy­ing. Two R-rated for­eign lan­guage films that have re­cently played the film fes­ti­val cir­cuit and are hav­ing lim­ited cin­ema re­leases are worth see­ing if they show up at a cin­ema near you. The Handmaiden (Agassi) is an erotic melo­drama from South Korean direc­tor Park Chan­wook, known for his re­venge dra­mas such as Old­boy. Set in the 1930s, when Korea was oc­cu­pied by Ja­pan, this in­tri­cately struc­tured les­bian drama in­volves a plot to fleece a rich woman of her for­tune, and the role played in the scam by an or­phan who be­comes the woman’s handmaiden and sex­ual part­ner. The film is el­e­gantly made, in­trigu­ing and un­set­tling. Neon Bull (Boi neon) comes from Brazil and fol­lows the lives of an itin­er­ant rodeo worker, his girl­friend and their young daugh­ter. Direc­tor Gabriel Mas­caro’s film is light on nar­ra­tive but strik­ingly shot and edited, and ul­ti­mately strangely com­pelling.


Ar­rival val, gallery

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