Wildlife (2018)

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Directed by Paul Dano
Country: USA

Actor Paul Dano, best known for his roles in Love & Mercy and There Will Be Blood, has in Wildlife his directorial debut. Dano co-wrote the script with Zoe Kazan based on Richard Ford’s novel of the same name, directing an excellent cast composed of Jake Gyllenhaal, Carey Mulligan, and Ed Oxenbould. They are the Brinsons, a family living in Great Falls, Montana, in 1960.

Fired without a cause and feeling aimless, Jerry Brandon (Gyllenhaal) temporarily leaves his wife, Jeanette (Mulligan), and 14-year-old son Joe (Oxenbould) in order to join a group of firemen assembled to battle a wildfire that keeps consuming the nearby mountains, close to the Canadian border. Although this is an honorable and brave decision, it comes at a time when his family most needs him. Financial difficulties force both mother and son to find part-time jobs while the inflexible Jerry is decided to risk his life for a miserable salary.

With no news about her husband and mad at him due to his selfishness, Jeanette embarks on a bared romance with Warren Miller (Bill Camp), a middle-aged ex-veteran who thrives in the car business. She doesn’t love him, but he could provide the stability she and her son have been seeking for so long. How does Joe cope with this situation? Well, there’s a traumatic dinner at the man’s house and some unexpected visits that accurately elucidate about his emotional state. Will Jerry be able to mend things up when he returns or it will be even worse?

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Compellingly written and acted, Wildlife is a mature drama about a crumbling marriage and the emotional struggle of a sensitive teenager who just aspires to see his parents together. On many occasions, he acts like the adult person who needs to put a stop in his parents’ uncontrolled impetus.

This closely observed family portrait, a study of loss and trauma, comes in tones of pervasive sadness. The fully shaped characters convey innate veracity, making us plunge headfirst into their afflictions, hopes, and frustrations. In particular, it is Mulligan who excels from start to finish.
Advancing quietly but in an assured way, Wildlife is heartbreaking.

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Stronger (2017)

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Directed by David Gordon Green
Country: USA

Starring an effective Jake Gyllenhaal in the main role, “Stronger” is a taut and heavily dramatic biographical account about the misfortune that hit Jeff Bauman, a Costco employee, who lost both legs during the 2013 terrorist bombing attack perpetrated during the crowded Boston marathon.

Jeff inspired many people with his towering courage and might have become a symbol of the Boston Strong movement, but his adaptation to his new reality was anything but smooth.

After making up with Erin (Tatiana Maslany) for the third time in their on-and-off relationship, Jeff seemed to regain some independence despite sporadic post-traumatic stress disorder manifestations he is forced to control on his own. He set about post-surgery rehabilitation and finds strength in the total availability of Erin, who abandoned her job and agreed to move in with him and his mom. However, Jeff’s alcoholic mother, Patty (Miranda Richardson), can be a nuisance sometimes and her recalcitrant personality often clashes with the benevolent Erin.

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Slowly yet unmistakably, Jeff slides into a depressive, self-destructive state where he simply gives up his recovery to fall into the dangerous abyss of alcohol and despair. Fortunately, the encounter with the good man who saved him, Carlos (Carlos Sanz), will bring him back not only the hope he needs but also the self-respect and responsibility that enable an appropriate life, both lived as an individual and family member.
   
The resourceful cast does a pretty decent job under the direction of the once-promising director David Gordon Green (“George Washington”, “Prince Avalanche”, “Joe”), who discontinued the attractive indie style that had marked the beginning of his filmmaking career to embrace supplementary standardized forms and structures. Naturally, it was Bauman’s memoir that served as the inspiration for the first-time playwright John Pollono, who passed the difficult test of assembling a capable storytelling.

This re-creation of the events weighs with emotion and humanity, but there’s no stroke of genius here. Even with a fluctuating approach that sometimes tends to rudimentary, Green sustains sufficient levels of honesty throughout to make us follow our hero with interest until the final credits start to roll. Indeed, he was particularly successful in the way he conjured the finale and staged the family dynamics with an aching authenticity.

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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

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Directed by Tom Ford
Country: USA

Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, and Michael Shannon team up with American writer/director/designer Tom Ford in his latest “Nocturnal Adams”, a neo-noir thriller based on the 1993 novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright.
This is Ford’s sophomore feature, and just like his debut, “A Single Man”, it was nominated for an Oscar (best supporting actor). Fearless, he didn’t vacillate in this difficult adaptation of a critically acclaimed book, which was republished with the title of the film after its release.

Susan Morrow (Adams) is a successful gallery owner who has everything in life except true love. Her indifferent husband, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), a businessman prone to romantic adventures with other women, is hardly present in her life. 
One day, Susan receives a manuscript for a novel written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal) whom she didn’t hear from in 19 years. The literary work, entitled Nocturnal Animals, is dedicated to her and comes with an invitation to dinner.

The novel’s contents disturb Susan. It describes a gruesome crime tale that has indirect connotations with their past relationship. After an initial reluctance, she decides to accept Edward’s invitation. What does this rendezvous can bring to them?

The writings are transferred to the screen as Susan pictures it in her head, and we see Gyllenhaal playing the novel’s protagonist, Tony, a good husband and father who lives a horrific situation while driving on a remote Texas highway in the middle of the night. He’s attacked by three evil men and left in a dirt dead end. His wife and teen daughter had worse fates: both were raped and then brutally assassinated. Detective Bobby Andes (Shannon), whose procedures are far from orthodox, is assigned to identify the offenders – Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lou (Karl Glusman), and Turk (Robert Aramayo), and capture them.

The story unfolds with surprise and expectation and its structure alternates between reality and fiction, making us search uninterruptedly for parallels between what was written and what has happened. The layers are not completely detachable here, but that blurriness is where the beauty of the film lies.

Lacking a genius stroke for the finale, “Nocturnal Animals” depicts a nonviolent reprisal that feels good and justified. At some point, we don’t know if we should feel sorry for Susan, Edward, or both.
Even imperfect and with margin to improve, the film looks at love, success, and self-confidence with a mordant cynicism and irony.