A wealthy art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband’s novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale.
Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen
Rated: R (violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language)
By Matt Greene
Nocturnal Animals opens with a montage of overweight women dancing naked in slo-mo. It’s certainly not something you see everyday, and sets the tone for a movie that always feels like it has something sinister hiding beneath its skin. Like a more naturalistic Mulholland Drive, it’s a Lynchian mystery about the effects of fiction on our lives, in which nothing would be strange enough to be out of the realm of possibility. It’s admittedly opaque and borderline pretentious, yet still it’s difficult not to be completely sucked in by the painful artistry and baffling intrigue on display.
It’s basically two movies: one follows Adams character as she navigates the high-society art world, and the other exists within a violent novel she is reading written by her ex-husband (Gyllenhaal). The real world is glossy and full of restrained rich-people and their problems. The book is grimy, tense and infuriating, an intentionally melo-dramatic and overacted murder-tale that is scary & unbelievably engaging.
Other than Gyllenhaal, who I think struggles with the tonal balance, the performances are largely very good, with Taylor-Johnson and Shannon standing out. Each gives a bold turns within the novel universe outside of how we normally see from them.
Director Ford takes a sharp approach to the film, especially the editing. Never sign-posting the transitions between the two worlds, he combines the southern-gothic thrills & supremely dark psychology, effectively put off our guard as the veil we keep between the realms of reality and fiction thins. It’s an unwieldy tale, to be sure, and I’m curious to see if my love for it sustains. Either way, it’s a pulpy, surrealist anomaly that is more than worth the look.
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
By Cole Schneider
“Nocturnal Animals” is the kind of hot pretentious garbage that gives art films a bad name. It’s visually and sonically beautiful and made to look like there is some deep message or sublime truth bubbling underneath its p(r)etty surface. There isn’t. It’s shallow. No, shallow is too generous—it’s empty.
“Nocturnal Animals” is made to look like a good movie, and it certainly does. Their hope seems to have been that the impeccable noir cinematography, lush score, and professional feel of the film would belie the vacant center. Instead it only frustrates the viewer with its insistence that it is something artistically interesting, intellectually engaging, and emotionally enrapturing without doing any of the necessary work to be interesting, engaging, or enrapturing. It’s one of those stories-within-a-parallel-story movies where both stories are equally banal, equally cynical, and equally soulless.
The vacant film has an all-star cast of actors including Amy Adams who spends the whole movie taking off her glasses, Jake Gyllenhaal who sulks mindlessly, and Michael Shannon who continues to be the best part of every movie he’s in. Shannon seems to understand the tone that the film should have—something more Lynchian, something a bit Coenesque. Everyone else, however, follows the lead from director Tom Ford who recently started filmmaking after a hugely successful run as the fashion designer who saved Gucci. “Nocturnal Animals” is his sophomore project and feels very sophomoric. It’s as if he designed the best dress for the Oscars and put it on a mannequin.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5 stars