“Nocturnal Animals” is a story about terror, infidelity, alienation, revenge and heartbreak all filtered through an almost Seinfeldian lack of meaning. Beautiful images fill the screen to engage your eye but that’s as far as it gets. Nothing here pierces the heart or the mind.
Amy Adams leaves her smile at home to play Susan Morrow, Los Angeles art dealer and wife of Hutton (Armie Hammer) a handsome but morally flawed man. “Do you ever find your life has turned into something you never intended?” she asks. As she tries to repair their broken relationship a manuscript written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives. Titled “Nocturnal Animals” and dedicated to Susan, it is the violent story of teacher Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) and the of abduction of his family, daughter (Ellie Bamber) and wife (Isla Fisher, who bears a striking resemblance to Susan). As metaphors pile one on top of the other, striking resemblances between fiction and life begin to make themselves clear.
“Nocturnal Animals” is several plot threads and beautiful pictures—every shot looks ripped from the pages of “Vanity Fair”—in search of a meaning. Director (and fashion icon) Tom Ford has made the feel bad movie of the month; a film so beautiful yet deeply unpleasant. It is a litany of misery—from Susan’s failed marriage and general ennui to the senseless abduction to a sloppy act of revenge—that seems to only suggest that wealth and beauty don’t insulate a person from tragedy and sorrow. It exists in a place where beautiful people have psycho pharmacologists on speed dial and world weary men in tight suits sigh, “Believe me, our world is much less perfect than the real world.” If the film wasn’t so pretty to look at it would be difficult to sit through the vapid observations on display. It occasionally plays like a parody of social registry types but is Ford poking fun or sympathising with them? It’s impossible to know.
Ford makes good use of Adams and Gyllenhaal’s expressive faces, and, as usual Michael Shannon brings the awesome, this time as a blunt Texas detective. “Why no fingerprints?” asks Tony of the crime scene. “Because his hands were probably busy on your wife,” comes the terse reply.
“Nocturnal Animals” won the Grand Jury Prize winner at the Venice Film Festival and some have been comparing it to the Holy Trinity of surreal noir, Hitchcock, Lynch and Kubrick, but for me it is more like a bloodspattered glossy magazine come to life.