Wednesday, November 30

REVIEW: Nocturnal Animals

Directed by Tom Ford
2016 Drama, thriller
1 hour 56 minutes
From Focus Features

Amy Adams
Jake Gyllenhaal
Michael Shannon
Aaron Taylor-Johnson
Armie Hammer
Isla Fisher
Karl Glusman
Michael Sheen
Laura Linney

Going into this I knew it was about three stories and you should too.  Designer Tom Ford took his stylish scissors and cut out three patterns and wove them all together.   Maybe what we end up with is a work of art, maybe it's a mess, maybe we're just not sure what's going on.

There will be those who will fall all over themselves, tripping the light fantastic over some transcendent message, uncovering some deeper truth that Tom Ford specifically meant to envelop their senses. I suppose after watching a thriller one may hear the film being compared to some Hitchcockian opus of yesteryear.  I can just hear a few 20-somethings sitting at Starbuck's, lost in their reverie, offering up one pithy comment after another about what a deeply moving filmgoing experience it was.

There will be those who won't connect to much of it at all.  It may not make a lot of sense to them.  They may see a glossy, pulp fiction feel to it with several overwrought scenes.  I confess that as I walked out of the theater I wondered what the point was.  Or was there a point?  If there's some connecting tissue among the three story lines-- and there is-- it is weak and serves to undermine the entire film.

Susan (Adams) is an art gallery owner, not in the best frame of mind because her husband (Hammer) is not giving their marriage his best which may have a little something to do with the fact that he's cheating on her.  One day she gets in the mail a copy of a book her ex-husband (Gyllenhaal) has written and dedicated to her and wants her to read and get back with him.  She hasn't seen or heard from him in years.  We'll call that the first story.  Unfortunately, it's not very interesting at all.

Story number two is the backstory of their relationship.  It's a little more interesting than the first but not much.

The third story is, in fact, a look into the book he has written.  As she reads it curled up in her bed and elsewhere over a series of days, it is played out on the screen.  It is the lion's share of the film and I found I not only liked it, but when the screenplay went back to one of the first two stories, I was kind of annoyed.  

The book's main character, Tony, is really Edward with a fictional name. He, his wife and daughter are driving on a lonely desert highway when they are accosted by a trio of thugs.  The film turns into a revenge tail with a cop (Shannon) trying to get the goods on two of the hoods (Taylor-Johnson and Glusman).  There is a suggestion that Adams sees herself as a model for the wife in the book and takes what she's reading as a sort of disguised threat. (Interesting that the book wife is played by Isla Fisher who looks a great deal like Adams.)  

My frustration with this film is that this desert story wasn't the sole story.  It should have been. There were several parts of it that were compelling and I found myself wishing I knew more about the characters and what they were all about.  I found nothing in Adams' character or episode remotely interesting.

Ford did a better job at directing than he did writing.  There were some awkward if not silly transitions.  One moment the screenplay veers between knocking one over the head to making a point and thyen seemingly not having much of a point at all. Clarity was not always present.

Adams' character felt too artificial to give her too much time and I didn't.  The actress didn't have a lot to do either except look icy and too made-up.  

Gyllenhaal had more to do and had more screen time.  His Edward was far more interesting than Susan and his playing of Tony gave the film what it needed to succeed.  Too bad we went back to Edward and Susan.

The best acting in the whole damned thing was that superb scene-stealer, Michael Shannon.  That boy is gonna win an Oscar one day. Taylor-Johnson was fairly unrecognizable as the chief villain but made his presence known.  Laura Linney as Adams' mother is only 10 years older.  One might ask if there weren't  a better choice?  I might have bought into a bit more.

Technical credits were all quite good.  Ford's stylish touches are evident in the Adams segments although interestingly I heard he did none of the clothes. He obviously worked well with cinematographer Seamus McGarvey and art and set directors.  I particularly liked the music, especially those ominous chords. Bravo to Abel Korzeniowski.

For some reason I got the notion that Ford was pissed off while he made this.  Perhaps he channeled that anger into his screenplay. It also felt like he never got over it because the film felt so incomplete to me.  I think that he was a little inarticulate in communicating his vision.  This project appears to be a bit too complex for a fashion maven who is directing only his second film. It's hard to not feel a missed opportunity.

Next posting:
And still another review

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