(director Tom Ford)
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is unhappy. We are not surprised. Her husband and assistant can barely conceal their contempt for her. Her butler gazes at her pityingly. She has a very uncomfortable house – acres of glass and marble about which she maunders, peering mournfully from under her fall of smooth red hair. She runs a notably empty and cavernous art gallery made of marble and glass. One day the butler hands her a parcel with a great look of concern. It’s the manuscript of a book written by Susan’s ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Nocturnal Animals is billed as a “revenge” film – Edward’s book of the same name is apparently his revenge for the manner in which Susan ended their marriage some twenty years ago. But it is hard to see how this is any sort of revenge. Nasty the book certainly is – and it provides the plot of a violent story within a story. Jake Gyllenhaal rather confusingly plays a major role in the second story as Tony Hastings, whose decision to drive all night through a remote area of Texas seemed like a good idea at time. But how is this a revenge? Is it because the two unfortunate women in the book also have long red hair?
All is smooth but sad in Susan’s world – brutal and jagged in Tony’s. We see-saw between the two, ultimately going nowhere, but in style. Naturally, this being a Tom Ford film, Susan’s clothes are beautiful (with the noticeable exception of the lace-up green sack in the final scene). Although the story line doesn’t quite gel, this is a stylish and unusual piece of cinema with pace and a fairy-tale quality. There are false notes – the co-worker who is more interested in the electronic baby-monitor than she is in the carbon-based infant itself; a retired cop who is dying and so has “nothing to lose”, a conservative matron straight out of left-wing farce and two improbably lovely corpses on an improbable red sofa. But the performances are all superb – hats off to Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Karl Glusman and Robert Aramayo who play the vile predators Ray, Lou and Turk. The superb, unbearably extended scene in which the three first encounter the Hastings family warrants an extra half star..
Minority Report by P
As everyone at The Varnished Culture‘s office knows, I am an owl, not a sparrow. And I like Jake Gyllenhaal’s work in Donnie Darko, Nightcrawler and Prisoners. But Nocturnal Animals is all specious style, superficial profundity and confected scenes. Freaks (fat performance models!) meets Deliverance or more precisely, Breakdown (hick rapists on the loose!) meets Death Wish (cancer cop will smoke some villains before his smoking smokes him). OK, so Susan regrets her choices, being regretful in extreme comfort, batting her cobalt blue eyes at the diverse types annoyingly surrounding her. Her husband is carrying on. Ed’s shambolic novel is just the memory-book she needs to articulate her pain, because Ed /Tony wants to share and share alike. Most folks regret poor choices. Most folks flinch occasionally at the memory of a wrong road taken. But they don’t film it all, take multiple positions and play it back out of sequence. A waste.