‘Nocturnal Animals’ (2016)

Finally got to watch Tom Ford’s ravishing film ‘Nocturnal Animals’. His film debut ‘A Single Man’ had a profound impact on me and my life ever since I watched it at the cinemas on my 21st birthday. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a marked departure from that film, as it is almost unbearably dark, cruel and cynical, unlike the tragic but uplifting romance that ‘A Single Man’ was. It many ways the film explores cynicism itself, in the LA art world full of beauty but unhappiness and in the death of a relationship which becomes a metaphor for a fictional story intertwined in the movie. The message is murky but from what I can piece together: love is precious and revenge hurts all involved. I admit that despite the violence and shock of the story and the cruelty of the ending I felt it lacked a sense of urgency or significance. Tom Ford is a master of the visual. Even when the film doesn’t flow or the dialogue is choppy, every scene is ravishingly beautiful. Your aesthetic soul will be well fed by this film but if you are looking for something more than a sad tale of revenge the film doesn’t quite deliver. And also I love Amy Adams, first the excellent ‘Arrival’ and now her sickly slick turn in ‘Nocturnal Animals’ she is one of the most versatile and empathetic actors working today.

8/10 ***1/2


Adavanced Screening Review: Nebraska


Nebraska (2013)

Director: Alexander Payne

Starring: Bruce Dern, Will Forte, June Suibb

I will show you fear in a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize

T.S. Elliot once wrote, in his masterpiece poem ‘The Wasteland’, ‘I will show you fear in a handful of dust’. Alexander Payne’s cinematic poem ‘Nebraska’ similarly seems to say ‘I will show you fear in a million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize’. Both works, in different ways, touch upon the same universal truth: the futility of life. In Nebraska an aging alcoholic father Woody Grant, Bruce Dern, takes a road trip with his estranged son David, Will Forte, from Montana to Nebraska to claim a million dollar marketing prize. Despite the fact that the prize is obviously a marketing scam and almost everyone in his life tries to dissuade him from making the trip Woody will hear none of it. If no one will drive him he will walk.

The apparent absurdity and seeming ridiculousness of his quest is slowly subverted throughout the film as the prize ticket becomes the Elliot’s ‘handful of dust’, a metaphor for our universal fear of death, our desire for meaning and the futility of our lives. Nebraska is a beautiful cinematic poem, profound as it is poignant. Although the film has deep and powerful undertones it also works as a hilarious absurdist comedy and a charming road movie.

Alexander Payne is a master at creating vivid complex characters both tragic and comic, such as the futile Schmidt in ‘About Schmidt’, the depressed wine-aficionado Miles in ‘Sideways’ and the quietly heroic Matt King in ‘The Descendants’. In ‘Nebraska’ Payne creates one of his greatest characters yet, the stoic, complex, alcoholic, headstrong, melancholic , man of few words, who will not go quietly into the night. Bruce Dern gives the performance of a lifetime by capturing the so perfectly the man leading a life of quiet desperation. A rich complex portrait, never shying away from the pain he has caused to his son and others nor the quiet acts of kindness he has done throughout his life.

Following on from the moving study of roots and family present in the princely Hawaiian King family in ‘The Descendants’, ‘Nebraska’ also masterfully explores the extended family and community of the Grants. The Grants are a completely departure from the wealthy easy-going Hawaiian King family. The extended Grants: a Midwestern working class family of stoicism, no nonsense and hardworking conservatism. The silence in the film is deafening, a community of withheld communication, repressed feelings and deep resentment bubbling under a veneer of politeness.

This silence and repression is punctured only by the startling character of Woody’s wife Kate, played by June Squibb in a hurricane of a performance. Just as Woody is raging against his steady decline into death, so too does Kate rage against the silence and unfairness of her life. The premise of the road movie established as the son David reluctantly agrees to take Woody to get his prize is diverted with a pit-stop in Woody’s old home town in which a family reunion is organised. The funniest parts of the movie take place her as the extended family and old friends expose their true greed and resentment upon hear mistakenly about Woody’s new found ‘wealth’.

Shot in black and white the film is steeped in bittersweet nostalgia of a rapidly disappearing Midwest world from which Alexander Payne came from. ‘Nebraska’ itself becomes one of the most fascinating characters with sweeping plains and sleepy towns reminiscent of the Coen’s cinematography in the classic ‘Fargo’. Payne seems determined to dispel the honest-good-folk stereotype of the Midwest, seeking instead to instil a sense of human understanding to an often overlooked part of America.

The film navigates its tone carefully. Playing quirky upbeat music over scenes of quiet desolation and interrupting heartbreaking moments of truth with moments of hilarious comedy. Perhaps Payne’s most personal and deep film yet, ‘Nebraska’ is a minimalist masterpiece which says more about life and death in a simple man’s quest to get a marketing prize than most films with grander subject matter and important figures. The million-dollar Mega Sweepstakes Marketing Prize is Elliot’s handful of dust.

9/10     A-         ***1/2

My review at The Feed Magazine: http://thefeed.com.au/review-nebraska/