There is a superficial idea championed by some movies that dishonesty sells. Heist films like Hell or High Water or Ocean’s Eleven suggest that a caper can handsomely reward the protagonist, if it’s properly executed. White lies can tell a person, “exactly what they need to hear” as a plot contrivance for furthering a character’s confidence, like Neo in The Matrix. And even films that deride dishonesty often do so by showcasing the extreme fall that accompanies an ill-gotten rise, even though the character doesn’t necessarily need to consider their lies to be a transgression at all; think The Wolf of Wall Street, Catch Me if You Can, or other examples of hubris-infused justice. Rare is the film that showcases the psychological destruction that a lie can wreak on a person’s life. Tim Burton’s Big Eyes is a fascinating exploration of precisely that idea.
Nocturnal Animals is fashion designer Tom Ford’s second feature film as both writer and director, and once again he has delivered a nuanced film full of emotion, sadness, and intrigue. Starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, the film is a peculiar mixture of crime thriller and relationship melodrama, married through an inventive “story-within-a-story” structural device: the main character reads a manuscript of her ex-husband’s novel, and the film’s narrative ping-pongs between the real world and the world of the novel. As the procedural story unravels in the novel, we learn more about the relationship between these two characters in multiple flashbacks.
In Denis Villeneuve’s high-concept science fiction film Arrival, the expert director deftly explores a profoundly different view of reality – all in the guise of an alien invasion story. Based on the novella Story of Your Life by Ted Chiang, the story is hard science fiction at its greatest, and ponders the challenge and ramifications of communicating with an alien species during first contact. In what has become a hallmark of Villeneuve’s style, the film boasts a fascinating non-linear storytelling technique that factors heavily into the plot. Though there are really only four characters of note, each is ably performed by an outstanding actor, with Amy Adams’s performance shining through as something special. This film takes advantage of its genre perfectly, altering a single idea about language and contemplating the potential ramifications. It seems as though Denis Villeneuve has been working in science fiction for his entire career; his treatment of Arrival is a deft exploration of the nature of time, language, and communication – both between humans and aliens, and humans and each other.