Movie Review – Nocturnal Animals
There are many parts of this film that feel like writer-director Tom Ford’s debut A Single Man. Aesthetically and cinematically, there are parts in this film that start to carve out a noticeable style, particularly from an editing perspective. Yet, his opening is very provocative, which is something this movie in general is or is trying to be. The opening to A Single Man isn’t as provocative unless one believes two men in love is provocative. Both films, however, deal with a person losing someone he loves and how he reacts. That theme is somewhat obscured because the movie is told through the point-of-view of not that man who’s lost the love of his life but rather the love-of-his-life herself.
Amy Adams (The Fighter and The Master) stars as Susan Morrow, an art dealer who runs a fancy and high-class gallery. She’s married to a tall, handsome, young businessman who does a lot of traveling to the east coast and back named Hutton Morrow, played by Armie Hammer (The Social Network and The Lone Ranger). Hutton is probably cheating on her. She’s nervous about her career and her art representation when one day, she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield. While Hutton is away in New York or somewhere, she begins reading the manuscript and she imagines what happens in the book and reacts to it.
Jake Gyllenhaal (Donnie Darko and Zodiac) stars as Edward Sheffield, the former husband of Susan. He’s only seen in flashback, as we’re given scenes of how he and Susan met and why they broke up. He meets Susan in Manhattan around the time of college. He’s an aspiring writer and doesn’t come from as wealthy a background as her. Susan’s mother, a Emily Gilmore-type from Gilmore Girls, looks down on Edward and calls him weak. Eventually, Susan accuses him of being that too, so after their break-up, 19 years later in fact, Edward sends Susan his manuscript, which Susan imagines to life as she reads it.
The story in the manuscript focuses on a man named Tony Hastings, also played by Jake Gyllenhaal. Tony has a wife and daughter. They’re traveling across west Texas at night on a desert highway when Tony’s car is run off the road by a band of criminals and Tony’s wife and daughter are kidnapped right in front of him. He doesn’t do much to fight back. He’s of course scared. He resists as much as possible but not to the degree that shows any demonstrable strength in the stereotypical masculine way as embodied by almost all other male characters.
Michael Shannon (Revolutionary Road and Man of Steel) plays Bobby Inez, a former lawman, possibly sheriff, who takes the case of finding the men who kidnapped Tony’s wife and daughter. He’s a little off-putting as it seems he’s willing to go outside the lines in order to affect justice. He’s very much an archetype from a Western. He’s a Clint Eastwood-type. He’s the stereotypical masculine angel on Tony’s shoulder who provides a pathway for Tony to be that masculine figure of strength himself.
The problem is that this manuscript story is hackneyed. It’s one that’s been told and seen tons of times before. From Straw Dogs (1971) with Dustin Hoffman to Breakdown (1997) with Kurt Russell, it’s a story that’s been done over and over. Put within the context of this film, it adds an interesting layer to the story of Susan and Edward. Unfortunately, Tom Ford doesn’t provide enough of the relationship between Susan and Edward to give us a true comparison.
Ford and his editor Joan Sobel make direct cuts back-and-forth between what’s happening with Tony, the imagined character, and Susan, the real woman doing the imagining. There are even direct parallels, as if we’re supposed to link the two not only physically but also emotionally or psychologically. Yet, aside from general empathy that one person might feel for someone going through a nightmare such as Tony’s, even if that nightmare were fictional, I didn’t feel anything much deeper happening for Susan.
Rated R for violence, graphic nudity, menace and language.
Running Time: 1 hr. and 56 mins.