December 09, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

Grade: B +
Director: Tom Ford
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, Isla Fisher and Laura Linney
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 1 hr. 56 min.

“You gonna cry?” It’s a question posed thrice during Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals. twice aloud and a third hovering, unspoken, over the film’s gut-wrenching finale. Twice no answer is given; by the end, none is required.

An over-stylized, byzantine veneer camouflages a revenge tale as obvious as the word-art Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) forgot she bought for her sterile LA art gallery. Susan’s life is awash in “junk,” both professionally and in her troubled marriage to Hutton (Armie Hammer), the wealthy hunk who cheated with Susan before cheating on her. With her life at a vapid crossroads, Susan receives a parcel containing a draft of a novel written by Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), her ex-husband 19 years removed. Susan and Edward met during her carefree and artsy days, before foreshadowing became prophecy and she became the same materialistic ice queen as her right-wing mother (Laura Linney).

Ford splits the narrative into three parallel tracks. There are flashbacks to the rise and crash of Susan and Edward’s relationship. As present-day Susan reads Edward’s manuscript, we are immersed in his neo-noir thriller set in West Texas, part Deliverance, part Straw Dogs. Three yokels accost and assault Tony (also Gyllenhaal), an Edward doppelganger who is also too weak to save his family, in this instance a redheaded wife (Isla Fisher) and teenage girl (Ellie Bamber) who not-so-subtly resemble Susan and her daughter with Hutton.

After his wife and child are found in a trash pit, Tony turns to a terminally ill Texas detective (Michael Shannon), who has seen too many scumbags slip through legal loopholes and ain’t gonna let that happen again. Legal recourse morphs into vengeful, self-destruction retribution.

The visual and character overlays across plotlines are partly Edward’s prose, partly Susan’s projection. Indeed, does Tony resemble Edward because that’s way Edward wrote the character or the way Susan is visualizing him? Regardless, fiction informs fact, which, in actuality, is also fiction. Ford himself is a West Texas native who earned his fortune in the fashion industry. The unspoken undercurrent of Nocturnal Animals is his familiarity with and contempt for the extremes of both milieus.

The film is thematically reductive, yet potent in its presentation, particularly Abel Korzeniowski’s intoxicating score with its obvious echoes of Bernard Herrmann. The already-infamous opening credits montage is an encapsulation of the contradictions that inform everything that follows: lurid, patriarchal, elitist, engrossing and mesmerizing.

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