Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Rapid Reviews: Nocturnal Animals and Jackie

Winning a Silver Lion Grand Jury Prize at the Venice Film Festival is a crowning achievement for any filmmaker, let alone one who only has two works to his name. Tom Ford burst onto the scene in 2009 with his warmly received debut, A Single Man. The effort landed lead star Colin Firth an Oscar Nomination and left everyone in the industry wondering what Ford would be doing next. It took quite a while to get here but Ford returns with Nocturnal Animals, a taut thriller that far surpasses his admired debut.

Susan Morrow is an art gallery owner who receives an unexpected package from her ex-husband of many years, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Inside she discovers a manuscript of his new novel which Edward dedicates solely to her. As Susan becomes engrossed in this violent and sinister novel she begins to reflect on the torment she caused her former lover.

Everything from the film's trailer to its detailed premise would lead you to envision Nocturnal Animals as a mind-bending and brutal thrill ride. And although the feature possesses a few grisly moments throughout its story-within-a-story structure, Tom Ford's effective sophomore effort surprisingly stands out for its psychological layering. Immense praise is in order for the entire cast as the film offers exceptional performances from top to bottom. Leading stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal deliver the caliber of work we all have come to expect but, in many ways, supporting stars Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson steal the show. From a filmmaking perspective, Tom Ford also impresses. In many ways Nocturnal Animals conveys a David Lynch kind of vibe, yet it's not quite as cryptic and I mean that as a compliment. Ford has a specific intention in mind and by the closing credits he makes it abundantly clear. Therefore, even if Nocturnal Animals isn't as visceral of a thriller as advertised, its cerebral anguish is by no means a consolation prize.

Stars: 3 stars out of 4

Grade: B

One of the Centerpiece selections as this year's Philadelphia Film Festival was Pablo Larrain's historical drama, Jackie. Much has been made of Natalie Portman's portrayal of former First Lady, Jacqueline Kennedy, and all of it is warranted. There's an Oscar Nomination in her near future and perhaps even a win. Therefore, Portman alone provides enough reason to witness this upcoming December release.

Upon allowing a face to face interview with a journalist (Billy Crudup), Jacqueline Kennedy (Portman) recounts the horrific events of her husband and former President, John F. Kennedy, as he was assassinated in Dallax, Texas in 1963. She paints a chilling portrait of that fateful day and the moments leading up to his historic funeral in Washington, D.C..

To Larrain's benefit, Jackie feels every bit like a journey back in time. Capturing a nostalgic tone with grainy shots reminiscent of classic reel to reel film, the film transports the audience back to 1963 where you're forced to endure catastrophic heartache that's so beautifully delivered by Natalie Portman. But even beyond the scope of the bloody and untempered account of the assassination, Jackie digs deeper with a broader story of legacy and remembrance. Larrain offers a bitter examination that illustrates the First Lady's fragile psyche as her world was taken from her in a single instance. Greta Gerwig gives a noteworthy supporting turn as Jackie's White House confidant, but I wasn't as fond of Peter Sarsgaard's accent-less portrayal of Robert Kennedy, which has been touted as Oscar-worthy by many. Jackie's heavy content transforms a 95 minute running time into a marathon, but there's depth and commitment worth appreciating by all involved.

Stars: 2 and a half stars out of 4

Grade: B-

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