Nocturnal Animals is the second film from fashion-designer-cum-director Tom Ford (after 2009's A Single Man)
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a Los Angeles art gallery owner whose privileged surroundings are providing her little comfort as her marriage is breaking down and her husband is sleeping with another woman. She receives a manuscript of a novel called Nocturnal Animals, written by her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she cruelly mistreated then dumped. She begins to read the manuscript, a violent revenge thriller in which a young family are terrorised by a brutal gang of rednecks.
Honestly, this film was one of the most pretentious piles of bilge I've had the misfortune of sitting through this year. Now, people who know me know I quite like films that certain people may describe as 'pretentious'. But this... this takes the cake. And then frames it badly on camera and gives it a lingering close-up to show how deep it really is.
I don't know what's worse: the poor camerawork, the heavy-handed symbolism, the shoddy editing, the awkward and obvious juxtapositions or the facile script that has characters either spouting inane platitudes or fortune-cookie bon mots. The most egregious thing is A Single Man was a subtle, nuanced, occasionally very beautifully shot film. What happened? There's no subtlety here. No nuance. You are sledgehammered over the head with every piece of imagery- even down to casting Isla Fisher as Tony's wife Laura (because she looks so much like Amy Adams, don't you see? Isn't that clever?)- and, when you need to put a blatant jumpscare in to check whether your audience hasn't actually slipped into a coma, you're on shaky ground. Also, I have major issues with the opening which depicts several obese naked women doing a drum majorette routine in slow motion. Quite what is this supposed to mean? Is it a metaphor for the grotesque and soulless world of Los Angeles? If so, there are perhaps more appropriate and more tasteful ways to do it than to go down the route of fat-shaming.
Performances are a mixed bag, to be fair. Amy Adams is an extremely talented actress that will undoubtedly win an Oscar one day, given the right role. And God love her, she's trying here. She's trying in earnest to turn this rotten sow's ear into a silk purse but there's only so much you can do with a script with the emotional depth of a stagnant puddle. Still, she tries to imbue Susan with some semblance of character which the script is sorely lacking.
Gyllenhaal plays a dual role, as Edward and as Tony, the main character in the novel which is handily dramatised for our viewing... well, I'd usually say pleasure but in this case I'm gonna have to make an exception and say endurance. As Edward, he's sweet, naive, sensitive. As Tony, he's all of those things and then he isn't as the cruelty of the world breaks him. That is literally what this film is like. I'm really hoping one day Aaron Taylor-Johnson will look back on this film and cringe. Like I did, every time he was on screen. He's the leader of the redneck gang that intimidate Tony and his family and his performance is just dire. It is buttock-clenchingly, sphincter-tighteningly bad. He's about as intimidating as a wet paper bag and has clearly been directed to go for wide-eyed crazy as a default.
However, there are some saving graces. Laura Linney is superb in her cameo role as Susan's ghastly, materialistic mother whilst there's a certain amount of gravitas to Michael Shannon's performance as Detective Bobby Andes, the taciturn and morally flexible lawman who helps Tony get some kind of justice for his family.
I didn't enjoy the film. I found it boring, pretentious and convinced of its own worthiness. Am I wrong? Am I missing something? Seriously, if you watched Noctural Animals and liked it or enjoyed it or 'got' it, feel free to leave a comment below or drop us an e-mail and let me know what I'm missing. Because I genuinely couldn't see it.
Frankly, if this is the best he can come up with, then might I respectfully suggest Tom Ford sticks to fashion design (which he knows a lot about and is very good at) rather than film-making.
Rating: 1.5 out of 5