Review: Nocturnal Animals

Art gallery owner Amy Adams, currently unhappily married to upper crust Armie Hammer, receives a gift from her ex-husband Jake Gyllenhaal. It appears Gyllenhaal has finally finished his big novel, and he wants Adams to read it first before it goes to publication. Dedicating it to Adams, she starts to realise the story’s violent and painful contents may be more than just a simple fictional crime story. Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, and Jena Malone plays Adams’ snooty colleagues, whilst Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, and Michael Shannon play ‘characters’ in Gyllenhaal’s novel.

This 2016 film from writer-director Tom Ford (whose “A Single Man” I liked very much) tells two stories, and to be honest one was far more intriguing to me than the other. This despite the fact that the other story featured very fine performances by Amy Adams (especially terrific) and the underrated Armie Hammer. I also reacted badly against the opening pretentious arty nonsense. Yes, it’s relevant to the character in theory, no Ford did not need to specifically go there. It’s grossly exploitative for the sake of showing off and being daring. In fact, I think Ford exploits the naked female form throughout the entire film, eventually in a really foul way for one or two unnecessary late scenes (including an imagined rape scene that Ford ought to have left unseen by the audience). The Amy Adams scenes are a stunningly cool-looking, austere piece of filmmaking, and the music score by Abel Korzeniowski is nice too. However, this portion of the film played for me like latter day Roman Polanski, and also features a hideous Jessica Lange-ish performance by a frozen Laura Linney (who is also too young for the part anyway).

I was much more interested in the story-within-the-story. Here we get some really nice low-level lighting from Seamus McGarvey (“The War Zone”, “Godzilla”), and although Isla Fisher is no Amy Adams, the performances by Jake Gyllenhaal, a terrific Oscar-nominated Michael Shannon, and a never-better Aaron Taylor-Johnson more than compensate. Moreover, the crime story/mystery told is genuinely gripping, whereas the rest of the film really rests on the shoulders of Adams and is a tad underdone. The film would probably have to run 3 hours to really tell both stories fully, as is there’s an imbalance. Although a little similar to Jeff Bridges’ character in the same year’s “Hell or High Water”, Shannon nonetheless has a magnetic presence on screen. As for Gyllenhaal, his best moments are in the second half, though by then I’d even started to see issues with that part of the film. Once you’ve discovered the central conceit, it seems a bit silly. Meanwhile, Andrea Riseborough and the normally energetic Jena Malone are stifled by Ford’s arch vision in the present day scenes and give affected performances beneath their talents. Riseborough also looks completely ridiculous.

A frustrating film with two stories of uneven interest and quality that don’t come together as smoothly as I would’ve liked in the end, either. I didn’t quite believe the conceit at the end of the day. The performances are mostly excellent, but Ford’s pretentious filmmaking is a bit of a turn-off.

Rating: C+


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