nocturnal-animals

Writer/director Tom Ford decides to introduce his sophomore feature Nocturnal Animals with shots of women. Large women, naked and dancing. Pan out to reveal these are performance art-type videos, playing in the background at a pretentious L.A. art show. It was an odd choice for somebody who comes from the fashion world, a place largely criticized for perpetrating negative body images. The juxtaposition is an interesting one and does well to hook the audience in. One only wishes the plot is as riveting as the naked (and wrinkly) women.

Amy Adams’ Susan Morrow, the art gallery curator, watches as the naked women entertain, before we are launched into her story line. She is married to an emotionally unavailable businessman played by Armie Hammer. While he leaves her alone during one of his many “business trips,” she receives a mysterious package from her estranged ex husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) — and a request to meet. It is a novel called Nocturnal Animals, a sexual and violent tome dedicated to her. The book’s story line centers on a husband named Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal) whose wife and daughter are raped and killed by a group of young thugs (led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Then Tony seeks the help of a terminally ill police officer, played expertly by Michael Shannon.

From there, Ford leaves the audience to put together the pieces as he weaves through three story lines using admittedly clever visual transitions. The first is Susan reading the novel and preparing to see her ex. The second is the events of the novel actually unfolding. Then we are shown the origins of Susan and Edward’s relationship. It is a lot to process and does not always hit its mark.

The film looks great. As expected, the wardrobe is top notch and Ford has some fun with color theory. The script has some flashes of promise, but in the end it seems Ford bit off more than he could chew. Ford’s first film,  A Single Man, is a fairly simple narrative with only a handful of characters. Nocturnal Animals deals with three storyl ines, with characters flitting in and out almost as much as our attention. The script is based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, which was very well received upon publication. It’s very possible that the complex plot may be better suited for the written word rather than the silver screen.

The best scenes featured Shannon reminding audiences why he has been a supporting titan for so long. His intensity oozes off the screen, as it does for most of his performances. The flashbacks of the Susan and Edward as a young married couple dragged the film down to a point that disrupted the pacing horribly. With so much movement, it was hard to get a feel for the characters. Even the stunning visuals weren’t enough to hook the audience in.

Nocturnal Animals is a confusing endeavor, noble in it’s pursuits, but in the end, falls short.