"Everything is as it should be."

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Nocturnal Animals : A Review


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. 



The Imitation Game: A Review


The Imitation Game, directed by Morten Tyldum with screenplay by Graham Moore (based on Andrew Hodges book "Alan Turing: The Enigma"), is the story of Alan Turing, a British mathematician who, during world war two, broke the Nazi's secret enigma code which was a major key in the allies winning the war. Adding to the drama of the story is the fact that Turing is a closeted homosexual at a time when homosexuals were persecuted and prosecuted for their sexual orientation.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the socially inept yet mathematically brilliant Turing. His work here, as always, is consistently solid. Cumberbatch is a very skilled actor, and his portrayal of Turing is finely crafted. Cumberbatch has the very unique ability as an actor, and it is put to good use here, to keep the audience at arm's length yet tantalize them with just enough intimate glances into his character's soul to keep viewers intrigued. His Turing is off-putting yet magnetic, which keeps us rooting for him even when he isn't all that likable. 

Keira Knightley as Turing's co-worker and fiancé, Joan Clarke, is very good in a, not surprisingly, under written role. Clarke's relationship with Turing could have been a goldmine of dramatic intrigue, yet it is never really fleshed out in any meaningful way, which is a disappointment. Knightley has the ability to light up any screen on which she appears, and this film could have used much more of her rather than less.

Mark Strong is one of my favorite actors, and he does his usual superb work as Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies. I also thought Charles Dance as Commander Alistair Denniston was very good. The Brits can really churn out quality actors, and both Dance and Strong are without question living proof of that. (Speaking of Britishness, this film is so thoroughly and distinctly 'British' that my teeth went crooked watching it!!) As for the other supporting actors, though, they were not as strong, and better performances from them would have lifted the film a bit. 

The most conspicuous thing about this film is that it is painfully 'safe', and it's glaring timidity. It is timid and safe in story, dramatically and in it's direction. The film makes the easy commercial choice in narrative, but dramatically, they bury the lede. We know the allies win the war, what we don't know is what happened to Alan Turing and why. In a postscript, the film tells us Alan Turing committed suicide a year after court ordered chemical castration due to a conviction for a homosexual encounter. It is blatantly obvious to me that the film should have started where it ended. That last year of Turing's life is infinitely more important in terms of drama than all the years he spent cracking the Nazi code. I think the 2009 film A Single Man, starring Colin Firth as a gay man contemplating suicide in 1962, is a great example of what The Imitation Game could have been. The intimacy of that portrait in A Single Man, was astounding, as was Firth's performance. I felt that excruciating intimacy was what was missing from The Imitation Game. One can only imagine how agonizing the final year, never mind the final day, of a man as tormented and tortured as Alan Turing could have been. The choice to simply make his suicide a few sentences written on the screen after the movie is over is incomprehensible dramatically, and feels terribly cold-hearted and obtuse. 

I think a wiser choice for a film about Alan Turing would be to start the story with Turing already deep into the Enigma code breaking process, and then we see him succeed and 'win the war'. But then we transition to how his country repaid him for his genius by persecuting him for his sexuality, and then harassed and finally crucified him. Add into this mix his complex and conflicted relationship with Knightley's Clarke, and you have the recipe for a really compelling film with forceful performances from both Cumberbatch and Knightley, who are unquestionably up to task. 

Returning once again to the great Colin Firth, the film that The Imitation Game has been most compared to is the one Firth won a Best Actor Oscar for,  The King's Speech from 2010, which also won the Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscar . I understand the comparisons, both are set around the same time period, both are exceedingly mainstream, and both are strikingly British.  The King's Speech is a fine film, not great, but well made and I very much enjoyed it, particularly the acting. The Imitation Game is nowhere near the film The King's Speech is, and neither are the performances, of that there can be no doubt. The comparisons to The King's Speech do The Imitation Game no favors.

In conclusion, The Imitation Game is an achingly safe and straight forward Hollywood film, even though it is unquestionably British. The heroic, yet tragic story of Alan Turing is one that deserved considerably more bravery from the people making it. Solid performances aside, the film fails to live up to the life of the man it is made about, and that is a shame.

© 2015