Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Movie with Abe: Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals
Directed by Tom Ford
Released November 16, 2016

In 2010, fashion designer Tom Ford made the film “A Single Man,” starring Colin Firth as a closeted professor in the 1960s turning to suicidal thoughts after the death of his partner. In his transition to film director, Ford brought over an extraordinary eye for color, framing, and beauty, constructing every scene with a delicate deliberateness, emphasizing every moment for its maximum impact. In his second time behind the camera, Ford doesn’t succeed anywhere near as well, telling an unsettling and off-putting story enveloped in darkness but devoid of all of the masterful craft that made his first film such a resounding and powerful experience.

Susan (Amy Adams) runs an art gallery in Los Angeles. Her latest exhibit, which features obese women dancing, is given a showcase throughout the opening credits of the film. That strange start leads into an equally bizarre but far grimmer film-within-a-film, as Susan receives a copy of her ex-husband’s book and, as she reads it, its events unfold on screen as well. Susan is trapped in a lonely world of success with a philandering husband (Armie Hammer), but her ex-husband’s protagonist, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal), suffers a much more horrific fate after he and his daughters are run off the road in the middle of the night by a pack of criminals led by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). As Susan continues reading, she cannot get the book – and its effect on her – out of her head.

Neither of the dual narratives in this film are particularly positive or uplifting, both defined by a sense of lingering dread. Susan’s life is beyond comfortable, and the clothes she wears and the attitude she presents to those around suggest a level of superiority. Flashbacks to her time with Edward (also Gyllenhaal) show a very time kind of woman, one who has been changed greatly by the success she has achieved. Tony, on the other hand, seems relatively quiet and unemotive before his devastating night, and his demeanor is not much changed as he hunts for justice with the help of a dogged detective (Michael Shannon). Neither Susan nor Tony is particularly sympathetic, and getting invested in their journeys is a difficult task.

Adams is having a great year, but all praise for her acting should be directed towards “Arrival,” in which she plays a much better character and therefore delivers a substantially better performance. Shannon is strong as usual, though the same is true of the person he is playing. For some reason, Taylor-Johnson has earned awards attention for his portrayal of a wild-eyed sociopath, but the enthusiasm is misplaced. So much of this film is intriguing but doesn’t ultimately lead anywhere, begging the question why this story needed to be told in the first place. While Ford previously managed to translate a tale of loss and loneliness into something stunning and immensely watchable, here he has created a miserable film with no apparent point that ends up with an infuriating whimper, making this film feel like a total and brutal waste of time.


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