Posts Tagged ‘Amy Adams’

If there were any questions left on Tom Ford’s directorial skills, Nocturnal Animals has answered them all. After his 2009 debut, A Single Man, the 55-year old fashion designer-turned-director comes back to Venice with Nocturnal Animals, a poignant and gripping tale that feels like something in between a thriller and a brutal satire of modern-day Los-Angeles’ socialites, shot with a confidence one would hardly expect from a director’s second feature.

But Ford is known for his ability to take everyone by surprise, and after his memorable entry into the world of film-making, he writes, directs and produces yet another visually mesmerising film that conveys a mixture of angst and nostalgia that stays with the viewer until the very last shot.

Susan (Amy Adams) is a Texas-born thirty-something year-old who works in an art gallery in LA. She is married to a successful business man (Armie Hammer) and lives in a dream-house overlooking Los Angeles’ skyline. Yet we know from the start hers is not a happy life. She hobnobs with LA artists who appear to be more concerned with their latest plastic surgeries than the art they make, a world which, in the memorable words of a colleague of hers, may be empty, but surely feels a lot less painful than the real one. Things change the day she receives a gruesome thriller freshly written by her former husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the novel makes her realise just how much she gave up to live the comfortable existence she now enjoys.

To some extent, Nocturnal Animals is neither revolutionary nor experimental. There are countless of films that deploy the catalyst which Ford uses to set the drama in motion: someone writes a book, that book becomes part of the film, and eventually the characters on the big screen end up relating with what was written, so that the book and the film become two intertwined worlds. But we do not know, and will only found out as the movie goes on, whether the book tells a story that Susan and Tony lived through during their years together. We do not know just what it is that attracts Susan so spasmodically about the novel and whether the book will reveal an abominable truth about her own life.

Ford is deliberately elusive about the subject, and this helps to keep the audience stuck to their seat until the film’s heart breaking ending. The camera shifts from the book to the movie effortlessly, and the transitions make for some visually stunning shots. All throughout Nocturnal Animals, Ford skilfully plays with the geometry of each scene, so much so that there are some that feel like movable paintings, in which the characters’ bodies look like perfectly crafted statues in a museum.

But this does not turn Nocturnal Animals into a collection of beautifully designed images, or – worse still – a celebration of the artificial world Susan inhabits. Far from it, LA’s arts scene and its inhabitants are constantly mocked, as Ford’s screenplay shifts back and forth from thriller to satire, ridiculing the junk-culture which Susan and her colleagues feed upon. It is this eclecticism that helps turning Nocturnal Animals into a remarkable film. Ford has written, produced and directed a film that is a joy to watch, and leaves you longing for more. It took him seven years to come back to Venice with his second feature. Hopefully the third will arrive much quicker.

Read Full Post »

American Hustle, the new film from David O’Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook), has ridden a wave of good press and nominations, both Golden Globe and now BAFTAs, owing to a stellar cast and string of good form from the director. Intriguingly, despite being billed from its trailers as a crime-thriller, based on the controversial late 70’s ABSCAM sting which imprisoned several US politians, it’s nominated in the best musical or comedy category at the Golden Globes and this is perhaps an important distinction to make in approaching this film.

For American Hustle is a riotously funny film, it’s tone arriving from the offset with the faux-disclaimer “Some of this actually happened”. This is due in no small part to its central players, each turning in excellent performances in what feels to be somewhat of a victory lap in first viewing, each enveloping their sleazy and seedy caricatures. Christian Bale dives head-first into his performance as Irving Rosenfeld, an overweight, balding, small-time con-man, working in the shadow of his accomplice and lover Sydney Prosser played by the always irrepressible Amy Adams. Elsewhere Bradley Cooper is excellent as the creepy and volatile FBI agent Richie DiMaso and Jennifer Lawrence practically lights up and steals every scene she’s in as Rosalyn, the obsessive housewife of Rosenfeld.

Much of the humour comes from a reportedly largely-improvised script, with highlights including a then primitive Microwave, here lovingly ascribed as a “Science Oven” given by Camden, New Jersey Mayor Carmine Polito (Jeremy Renner) to Irving. Equally, cameos from Louis C.K as Bradley Cooper’s chief superior and Robert de Niro as mob boss Victor Tellegio lead to many brilliant scenes. C.K turns up his awkwardness ratchet as the nervous and frequently overpowered supposed superior of Cooper’s DiMaso and features a running joke between the two of a cheesy background fable which never gets completed.

At it’s most interesting, American Hustle is a film about performance. The characters are all cheats playing people that are bigger than their boots. Irving is actually reluctant to go too big with his operations, understanding that being a small-time operator conning desperate men out of their remaining 5k is enough to get by; but he knows how to play his role, shown in the opening shot of him delicately preparing his costume (comb-over), which we see repeatedly from each of the main characters.

This applies none more so, however, than to Adams’ Sydney Prosser, who creates an exotic allure in order to entice these desperate men under her power as Lady Edith Greensley of “British nobility”. Adams’ British accent is at once-convincing, but wavers as the narrative progresses, knowing that it will go largely unquestioned in seedy America. Comparatively the Mexican FBI agent Paco Hernandez (Michael Peña), employed to play the Sheik who’s “money” is the driving force of the plot, is intentionally less convincing. The decreasing quality of Sydney’s accent seems plausible in this story of acting, not just because of Adams’ strength as an actor, but because the film allows that doubt to exist.

The problem with American Hustle however, is that, while it has some powerhouse performances, much like Cate Blanchett in Blue Jasmine, it in fact outweighs the film itself. While the initial set-up of the film is charming; Irving and Sydney’s blossoming sexual and professional relationship, Richie’s entrapment of them, Rosalyn’s neglect as a result of all of the above, the plot to entrap politicians and connected gangsters from taking bribes starts rolling, it begins to feel a little unfocused and lifeless.

As a result, tonally the film is a bit of a mess. While it remains highly amusing throughout, the emotional connection to any of these characters, bar perhaps Rosalyn, gets lost amongst the laughs. Once the film finally reaches its conclusion, for it is overly long, there is no real pay-off. The effect of seeing Sydney and Irving’s final plotting at work is largely dulled as the emotional connection and threat has disconnected. De Niro’s appearance is the only purveyor of any sense of danger for a brief time, but his motivations are unclear. Meanwhile  we are constantly told that Mayor Polito is acting for the good of the people, but the message is muddled in preachiness.

There’s a painful lack of back-story to truly engage with any of these characters, the largely pathetic Ritchie in particular, and though that may seem reasonable with con-men & women, there’s no real reason to care whether they succeed or fail at the films close. It’s a shame because, for all the excellent performances, soundtrack, costume and even the occasionally interesting but inconsistent cinematography, the film just feels a bit empty. Perhaps it is crucial the word American appears in the title, for this truly was an American scandal, and it’s effect, like Sydney’s accent, is lost in translation.

Read Full Post »

%d bloggers like this: