– An extremely dated story from director Robert Zemeckis and a completely immersive, but flawed, thriller.
Just like 2015’s The Walk, it seems that Robert Zemeckis hasn’t really been able to adapt his directing style with the times. If you look at his filmography, the 80s and 90s were filled with hits, and then he’s fallen off since then, with the exception of Flight from 2012. There’s just a style of really blatant melodrama in his work, and that exaggerated emotional approach doesn’t really hit with a contemporary audience.
The two lead performances are both fine, though, as we focus on a Canadian intelligence officer Max (Brad Pitt) who gets paired with a French intelligence officer Marianne (Marion Cotillard) to head to Casablanca and plan to assassinate a German ambassador. As they try to blend in and gain access to a party/gathering where their target will be, the two begin to develop a pretty strong bond. After the mission concludes, they decide to settle down together in England, raising a family and living the working class life. A few years into their life, the police force that Brad Pitt’s Max learns that the British government has classified Marianne as a potential spy, leaving Max in a very precarious situation to try to either prove his wife’s innocence or follow orders and take her out.
I loved the concept of this movie, especially after seeing the initial trailers, thinking that it could end up being a very exciting and thrilling experience at the movies. Also, it’s noteworthy that the film’s premise is fairly unique. However, the biggest issue that arose and did undercut some of the interesting concepts was pacing. Years fly by in this film, and it seems like each individual event in this story: their meeting, their courtship, the assassination, the move home and family life, the spy issue, etc. don’t get enough time to really fester and develop properly. It’s a shame considering the nice ideas and good actors, but it would’ve been way better as a television miniseries, rather than one film. There’s just not enough time to work the story kinks out.
This pacing issue matters for several reasons, but most notably, it hinders the first two acts, and then by the time the third act spy plot kicks in, we’ve checked out of the movie a little bit. While their chemistry isn’t bad, the film spends only small amounts of time in their relationship before the actual mission takes hold. When Brad Pitt suggests that they get together after the mission, it feels disingenuous because they barely know each other. Outside of a very awkwardly filmed car-in-a-sandstorm sex scene, there is no passion in their courtship together. Even that scene is problematic, and very cinematically silly.
However, once we get the plot of Brad Pitt trying to prove his new wife’s innocence to try to save his family (and partly be in denial) the movie does pick up. If the two characters had a more rewarding relationship and we were invested in the atmosphere of the movie, this third act could’ve been very effective. In reality, it was only moderately effective, just like the rest of the movie. It’s shot well, framed well, the costumes are solid, as is the production design (especially of their new home). This can be attributed to a great team that a really good director brings with him, and although the performers here are definitely game, the end product is just mediocre. It’s not a horrible movie, it’s not even bad, it’s just a disappointing and slightly-below-average effort from a director who should be able to do better. It’s constant hiccups like these that stop Zemeckis from being an all-time great.
Director: Robert Zemeckis (Forrest Gump, Cast Away, Back to the Future, Flight, Who Framed Roger Rabbit)
Starring: Brad Pitt, Marion Cotillard, Jared Harris, Matthew Goode, and Lizzy Caplan
RT Score: 60%
One of my most anticipated films of the year is Nocturnal Animals, the only true awards-season style thriller that’s coated in glamour and tension. While this is a flawed movie, probably because Tom Ford has only limited experience in screenwriting, it’s gorgeously framed and wonderfully acted in a way that has me at a total crossroads in how to score this movie. It could be as high as a film in the A range just based on personal enjoyment.
We open with Amy Adams as Susan, an art director/gallery owner in LA, living the rich life, but suffering from severe insomnia that’s starting to hurt her everyday life. She realizes that her new husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is having an affair, and she begins reminiscing about her first marriage with writer Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she states she left in a pretty bad state. Essentially, the very driven Susan and the very creative but lackadaisical Edward could not reconcile some of the differences in their personalities, especially after Susan’s mother (Laura Linney) called the dissolution from the beginning.
Susan gets a manuscript of Edward’s completed novel in the mail, the novel dedicated to her after Susan was rather hard on Edward during their marriage, and Edward was finally able to finish his first book after several years. As Susan begins to read the book, a violent, extremely personal tale, the tone of the novel begins to take over her everyday life. (We see the novel unfold onscreen as she reads it.)
The novel, very simply, is about a family driving in Texas, again-Gyllenhaal as the father, Isla Fisher as the mother, and Ellie Bamber as the daughter. The family is run off-road by a group of troublemakers headed by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. As things turn violent and disturbing in the novel, Susan’s life is affected. It’s worth noting that Michael Shannon plays a ruthless detective in the novel portion of the film, and he may have the best performance, but I don’t want to spoil too much of his involvement.
Director Tom Ford, as a long-time fashion designer, has managed to craft a very gorgeous film. All of the outfits and glamour of the shots are incredible. The characters live the high life, and they make Amy Adams fit perfectly into this role, showcasing not just a range of emotions, but a range of ages as well, as she looks back on her former marriage. Then, we go right into a gritty Sam Peckinpah or Sergio Leone film in the novel scenes, a dirty Western-style production that has an always-great Gyllenhaal with a relentless Michael Shannon and disturbing performance by Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I don’t want to spoil this movie, or how it unfolds, but while I’m really not a fan of the opening credit sequence and some of the information that we need remains vague and too restrained, there’re also parts of this film that are disturbing and thrilling. It’s probably one of the best films of the year, but objectively, there are issues.
Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Armie Hammer, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson
with: Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen, and Jena Malone
RT Score: 72%