Out on Friday 4 November
Tom Ford delivers style and substance. A lighthouse family gets a messy melodrama. A doc celebrating Richard Linklater.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Nocturnal Animals, The Light Between Oceans, The Accountant, Girls Lost, Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny, A Street Cat Named Bob, My Feral Heart, Rupture, The Darkest Universe, and You've Been Trumped Too.
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“Are you willing to go outside of strict procedure on this?” barks Michael Shannon’s Texas lawman in one strand of Tom Ford’s noir-tinted melodrama.
Fashion designer Ford certainly exceeds set procedure in his sumptuous, suspenseful second film, lifted from Austin Wright’s meta-novel Tony and Susan. Juggling surface and subtext, high style and raw feeling, Ford pulls off a visceral brain-teaser with genre-mangling ambition and confidence: even when he leaves you unmoored, his hold is sure.
Proving that Colin Firth’s lead in Ford’s debut, A Single Man (2009), was no fluke, that assurance shows emphatically in the performances. On peak form, Amy Adams taps deeply into the aching neurosis behind the poise of married, moneyed and melancholy LA gallery manager Susan Morrow.
When her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her his novel, Nocturnal Animals, she starts reading. Swiftly, we’re guided between memories of love soured and the novel’s Texas noir nightmare, where a double-duty Gyllenhaal’s city wimp turns vengeful after his wife and daughter are abducted during a late-night road altercation.
Smartly, Ford makes these triple-stacked plots magnify, not muffle each other. Adams imbues the act of reading with magnetism; as for Edward’s novel, the electric highway confrontation sizzles with tight-wound tension. Themes of guilt, revenge and wounded manhood course through its fraught aftermath, intensified as they bleed into Susan’s story via the history of her bust-up with Edward.
With near-Hitchcockian levels of suspense and suggestion, Ford charges every scene, setting and segue with implication. DOP Seamus McGarvey’s lustrous images stress the contrasts between Susan’s mansion and wide-open Texas, from first-world torpor to existential drift. Later, a punch thrown in the novel cuts aggressively to Susan dropping the book, her control rocked by loaded prose in editor Joan Sobel’s whip-sharp work.
Swooning to Abel Korzeniowski’s Bernard Herrmann-esque score, what emerges is a tale of repressed romance, stifling conformity and literary revenge, all embedded in style. Rhyming images accrued across story strands invite us to look closer. As they mount, so our emotional investment deepens. (Remember the startling opening-titles sequence – suggestive callbacks occur.)
Fantastic ensemble casting fleshes out Ford’s pull. Isla Fisher’s Adams-like wife, Shannon’s beady detective and Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s lank-haired varmint all enthral in Texas. In posh-world, Laura Linney assumes attack mode as Susan’s toxic mother and Michael Sheen delivers an art-clique cameo with waspish style. “Our world is a lot less painful than the real world,” he tells Susan.
But as Adams takes centre-stage for an ambiguously agonised finale, the strictly policed boundary between worlds crumbles. Same goes for Ford’s multiple layers: his sense of studied design is scrupulous, but it comes etched in emotional intensity.
THE VERDICT: Style is substance in Ford’s second film. Unlike many puzzle-piece movies, it thrills on every level.
Director: Tom Ford; Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher, Michael Shannon, Laura Linney, Aaron Taylor-Johnson; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016
The Light Between Oceans
Adapted from M.L. Stedman’s 2012 novel, this is director Derek Cianfrance’s third film investigating fatherhood in its many forms. After the horrors of World War 2, shellshocked ex-soldier Tom Sherbourne (Michael Fassbender) finds peace as a lighthouse keeper on a remote Western Australian island.
He marries local beauty Isabel (Alicia Vikander), tragedy strikes, and when a baby washes ashore in a rowing boat, she makes him keep it – a decision the entire cast will regret. As an awkward man seeking – and ruined by – silence, Fassbender is excellent, though there are really two films here: the first, wet and woolly; the second heart-wrenching.
Though the passage of time is handled poorly (mainly through letters), and the use of light as a symbol for the truth is somewhat hammered home, when Cianfrance’s stiff upper-lipped effort finally gives way to rawer emotions, it brings to mind the work of Jane Campion.
But where Campion’s keyboard sang with repressed feelings, the one in Sherbourne’s lighthouse is beautiful to look at but doesn’t quite play. A decent metaphor for the film itself.
THE VERDICT: Cianfrance’s moving but messy melodrama can’t quite conjure the elusive alchemy of adaptation.
Director: Derek Cianfrance; Starring: Michael Fassbender, Alicia Vikander, Rachel Weisz, Bryan Brown; Theatrical release: November 1, 2016
A high-concept throwback that takes its silliness seriously, The Accountant is efficiently entertaining despite its missteps. Ben Affleck plays Christian Wolff, a maths genius with autism whose book-cooking abilities make him a useful asset for criminal organisations. He also has assassin skills to rival Jason Bourne.
Warrior director Gavin O’Connor keeps the action slick and pacy, leaving you little time to question the more incredulous moments. There’s at least one twist too many, but Affleck grounds it with a committed, refreshing portrayal of autism within a mainstream thriller.
Director: Gavin O’Connor; Starring: Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick, J.K. Simmons; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016
A surreal Swedish gender-swapper that recycles an old Charmed plot, as three bullied schoolgirls become boys after ingesting fluid from a mysterious flower. Realism isn’t a priority here, but as Kim (Tuva Jagell) struggles to let her male identity go, director Alexandra-Therese Keining explores complex issues of trans identity, homophobia and sapphic desire.
Sadly, much of the debate becomes muddled as the plot dives down increasingly angsty avenues, while the melodramatic denouement feels like a Scandi version of Byker Grove. Interesting, but others have explored similar themes far more effectively.
Director: Alexandra-Therese Keining; Starring: Tuva Jagell, Louise Nyvall, Wilma Holmén; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016
Richard Linklater: Dream is Destiny
Richard Linklater’s movies are so painstakingly low-key that he often doesn’t get credit for his innovation and influence over the past 25 years. This doc by Lewis Black and Karen Bernstein certainly puts him on that pedestal, charting his achievements from ambitious high-schooler to indie game-changer and beyond.
A comprehensive celebration, the film includes contributions from key collaborators (Hawke, Delpy, McConaughey) and Linklater himself. An inspiring rallying cry for small-town dreamers everywhere.
Director: Louis Black; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016
A Street Cat Named Bob
As real-life heartwarmers go, Bob is as snuggly as the feline star himself. A homeless man (Luke Treadaway) gets a break when a social worker (Joanne Froggatt) and a random moggy offer friendship.
Bob has spawned multiple books, but what works on the page seems slight on screen. That’s not to say it isn’t life-affirming, it’s just not quite the cat’s pyjamas.
Director: Roger Spottiswoode; Starring: Luke Treadaway, Ruta Gedmintas, Joanne Froggatt, Anthony Head and Bob; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016
My Feral Heart
There’s a refreshingly positive approach to disability in Jane Gull’s debut. When his mum dies, Luke (Steven Brandon), a self- sufficient man with Down syndrome, is sent to a care home, where he befriends gobby gardeners and aids a girl he finds in a local barn.
A moving, sincere British indie that finishes just as it’s getting started. NB: Can only be seen in cinemas by booking via ourscreen.com.
Director: Jane Gull; Starring: Suzanna Hamilton, Pixie Le Knot, Darren Kent; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016
Steven Shainberg’s (Secretary) thriller never quite delivers on the promise of its central mystery. Single mum Renee (Noomi Rapace) is kidnapped by a secret group and taken to a secure facility for experimentation.
Our curiosity’s piqued, but too much time is spent sneaking aimlessly around the building. And when the B-movie reveal finally comes into focus, it feels like a waste of a good set-up.
Director: Steven Shainberg; Starring: Noomi Rapace, Ari Millen, Peter Stormare; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016
The Darkest Universe
Described by directors Tom Kingsley and Will Sharpe as a “comedy psychodrama”, this idiosyncratic, mini-budgeted work sees Sharpe play Zac, a city trader traumatised by the disappearance of sister Alice (co-writer Tiani Ghosh) and her boyfriend.
The story alternates between glorious canal scenery and Zac’s woefully inept attempts to drum up help. An offbeat delight.
Directors: Tom Kingsley, Will Sharpe; Starring: Will Sharpe, Tiani Ghosh, Joe Thomas; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016
You’ve Been Trumped Too
Timely follow-up to 2011 doc You’ve Been Trumped. Catching up with Scottish farmers the Forbes, who tried to prevent The Donald building a golf resort in their area, it shows how they were left without water for five years, while complaints were met with lies and bullying tactics.
The implication’s clear – he can’t be trusted – but it’s often frustrating, not revelatory viewing.
Director: Anthony Baxter; Starring: Molly Forbes, Donald Trump, Michael Forbes; Theatrical release: November 4, 2016