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Nocturnal Animals : A Review

****THIS IS A SPOILER FREE REVIEW!!! THIS REVIEW CONTAINS ZERO SPOILERS!!!****

Estimated Reading Time : 5 Minutes 08 Seconds

Rating: 1 out of 5 stars

Recommendation : Skip it. No need to see this film in the theatre or on cable/Netflix as it is an unmitigated mess that never lives up to its grandiose pretensions.

Nocturnal Animals, or as I keep mistakenly keep calling it, Nocturnal Emissions, is definitely not a wet dream, it is more like a bone-dry nightmare. If David Lynch sustained a traumatic brain injury and then got blind drunk and directed an Armani commercial, that would be Nocturnal Animals. Actually as I think about it more deeply, the severe head injury-drunken-David Lynch-Armani ad would be considerably better than the limp and lackluster Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by fashion designer Tom Ford and starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, is billed as a neo-noir, psychological thriller based on Austin Wright's 1993 novel Tony and Susan. Contrary to what the film thinks it is, Nocturnal Animals is not neo, not noir, not psychological nor is it a thriller, rather it is a steaming pile of stylized excrement.

The "story", and I use that term very loosely here, is about a chic, wealthy, Los Angeles art gallery owner, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), who in the midst of her icy marriage to Hutton (Armie Hammer), receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Edward, a long-time struggling writer, has finally written a novel and dedicated it to his estranged ex-wife Susan. Susan lays down in her impeccably stylish Los Angeles avant-garde mansion to read the book. The film then jumps between the "fictional" action in the novel and Susan's "real-life" reaction to it. And thus arrises the first of many major problems with Nocturnal Animals…the book Edward has written is the absolute worst sort of literary dreck imaginable. Edward's novel is so trite, insipid and derivative it makes Fifty Shades of Grey look like The Brothers Karamozov, but somehow, Susan, a gatekeeper of artistic snobbery, is enraptured by this appalling pile of garbage. 

The film jumps back and forth between this God-awful novel, which tells the story of a family of three, a husband and wife and their teenage daughter, who get harassed by a gang of local toughs on a highway in the dark of night in the barren wastelands of west Texas, and the perfectly polished Susan lounging on her silk sheeted bed in the Hollywood Hills reading said tedious novel. The film is terribly written, terribly directed and terribly acted.

Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Susan's real-life novelist ex-husband Edward and the fictional novel's lead character Tony Hastings, the father and husband of the family harassed by the local bad boys. Gyllenhaal can be an uneven actor on the best of days, sometimes he is great (Donnie Darko, Brokeback Mountain, Zodiac, Nightcrawler) sometimes…not so great (everything else). In Nocturnal Animals all of Gyllenhaal's most troubling artistic instincts come to the fore and he delivers an abysmally poor performance. Gyllenhaal vacillates between being a doe eyed, impotent moron and a raging, revenge-fueled maniac, but his performance is like watching an egregiously constipated man desperately struggling to evacuate his bowels, or an incontinent one trying to contain them.

Amy Adams is a fine actress, but she is so overwhelmed by the Ocean of Dullness that is Nocturnal Animals that she quickly gets pulled out by the currents of the vapid script to a sea of oblivion, never to be seen again. Adams is certainly a striking woman and she is as beautiful as ever in the hands of the fashion designer/director Tom Ford, but her performance flails about searching for meaning where none exist. The extent of Adam's character development seems to come from the decision to wear dark eye liner, not exactly the apex of artistic courage. 

Tom Ford directed 2009's A Single Man, which starred Colin Firth as a gay man on the last day of his life in 1962 Los Angeles. A Single Man was a tremendously ambitious and daring film that was a terrific achievement for the then first time director Ford. Sadly, Ford is out of his depth with Nocturnal Animals. The film is so structurally unsound it collapses under the weight of its own pretension. Neither the "real world" segments, nor the "fictional world" segments are fully developed enough to have any redeeming value whatsoever. And while Ford is trying to make the "fictional world" of the novel a metaphor for Susan and Edward's relationship, that story is so catastrophically dull and unimaginative, it leaves the entire enterprise insidiously mundane and predictable. 

The most pivotal scene in the film takes place through an incoherent maze of flashbacks as Susan reads Edward's novel. Susan has a flashback and recounts when she hurt Edward so deeply that he and their marriage could never recover, but the wound she inflicted spurred Edward to write the novel she now reads. If that sounds convoluted, it's because it is. This scene is the dramatic climax of the film and it completely lacks any storytelling context or cinematic impact. This scene is so flaccid that not even a splint made out of a handful of popsicle sticks and a roll of duck tape could render it dramatically erect, which is par for the course with Nocturnal Animals.

I understand what Tom Ford was trying to do with Nocturnal Animals, I truly do, but he fails miserably, and even his failure is spectacularly unremarkable. Nocturnal Animals is a desperately pedestrian film of little to no value whatsoever. Neither the "real" world nor the "fictional" one of Nocturnal Animals has the least bit of dramatic resonance to them. I highly recommend you skip Nocturnal Animals as it is not worth any of your time or hard earned money. I hope that one day soon, director Tom Ford can return to his 2009 form when he made the captivating A Single Man, and he leaves the disaster that is Nocturnal Animals in a dusty ditch by the side of the road in the barren wastelands of west Texas. 
 

©2016