Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals
Director: Tom Ford
Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon
by Jason Koenigsberg
Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals is a pretentious arthouse movie about pretentious art. Then about half way through it switches gears and tries to be a love story, or a metaphor about holding onto love and not letting a great romance slip away. Unfortunately by the time it attempts to be something more than an ostentatious curio, it is too late because it fails to make the audience care about the characters. When certain tragic events happen, we should have been devastated but instead we are left with a rather indifferent feeling. Such a shame since this is Tom Ford’s long awaited follow up to his terrific directorial debut A Single Man (2009) which featured an outstanding performance from Colin Firth.
The film opens up with fireworks over a black screen but then for shock value, the audience is treated to what is probably the most grotesque and unconventional strip tease a mainstream movie has ever featured as the opening credits roll. Obese women over the age of fifty are dancing in a montage that is meant to shock and disturb since they are very much an unconventional image of sexual beauty. Right away the film succeeds at least in getting our attention and challenges the audience and their taste for depravity by forcing us to question our definition of conventional beauty. However once the opening credits are over, that is it. The film never returns back to those specific questions and themes.
Although most people will be thankful once the disgusting and pretentious opening montage is over, we meet the beautiful Amy Adams and her handsome husband Armie Hammer as an upper class couple with some very upper class problems. It is hard to feel sympathy for these people when financially they seem to have everything in the world they could ask for. These early scenes act as a commentary on high society and that wealthy residents in Los Angeles are miserable people. So when the film takes a few twists and turns later on, it is tough to feel really bad for them.
Amy Adams’ ex husband sends her a manuscript of a book he wrote and dedicated to her that will be published entitled Nocturnal Animals, hence the title of the movie, how very clever. As she starts to read it we jump to the story within the story and meet Jake Gyllenhaal and his wife and daughter about to take a road trip in Texas. The film contrasts middle class problems of people in Texas bleeding into upper class socialites problems in LA. It paints the parallel stories as if they are taking place in two separate countries. The red state and the blue state could not be any more different with how they depict American culture and values. In a lot of ways Nocturnal Animals makes both spheres of American culture look bad. It was easy to care about the presumably fictitious story taking place in Texas since there are a lot of scary moments and violence that afflicts Gyllenhaal and his family, but the film failed to transport its audience the way it should have where certain events could have been gut-wrenching or heartbreaking.
The music score is predominantly strings throughout that create an eerie mood resulting in a score that is very typical among thrillers made in the past few years. The set design and art decor of the film contain some outrageous pieces that beg for the audience to pay attention to them. The sets are too blatant and lack any sense of subtlety.
The only good thing about Nocturnal Animals, and it is so good it is almost worth giving this film a favorable review, can be summed up in two words… Michael Shannon. He has proven himself to be one of the best actors working in films today and this is another great performance. He is phenomenal as the detective helping Jake Gyllenhaal after he is a victim of a violent crime. Much like in Revolutionary Road (2008) Michael Shannon outshines the lead actors and creates a character so intriguing viewers will wish there was more of him in the film. Also like Revolutionary Road, this film is a melodramatic and pretentious bore and he is the performance that makes the audience take notice and start to care about the events unfolding onscreen. For that film Michael Shannon earned his first and thus far only Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Even though Nocturnal Animals is mediocre, I would not mind if the Academy recognized Michael Shannon for his outstanding performance here.
That is about it for this awards season contender. It was obnoxiously pretentious and made it very hard to sympathize with characters the audience was supposed to invest their emotions in. Nocturnal Animals had some moments that are worth recommending but was too pompous throughout and the exclamation point comes with the pretentious ending that if we cared about the character we would have been devastated by the final shot. But instead I could not help but think the character seen crying in the last frame got what they deserved as I shrugged my shoulders and walked out.
Instead of seeing Nocturnal Animals check out this fantastic scene from the otherwise worthless melodrama Revolutionary Road illustrating how terrific Michael Shannon is outshining Titanic alums Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet and Kathy Bates. No easy task and something very few actors could do.