Review: 'Nocturnal Animals'

New dark drama is derivative and empty, just like its characters
Tom Ford does his best David Lynch in the glossy, vapid 'Nocturnal Animals.'

Watching Nocturnal Animals is essentially like watching a Charles Bronson retrospective in a plush, red velvet-wrapped salon during some minor European city's film festival. The trappings give aesthetic importance to what's going on up front, culturally validating something that isn't all that different from a Golan and Globus rape-revenge shocker. Celebrities turn up (including Michael Sheen and Laura Linney) to validate the significance of what we're watching. We're presumed to find the framing by photographer-turned-director-turned-back-to-photographer Tom Ford positively Lynchian; we're meant to be captives on rides on lost highways. But there's only one David Lynch, and imitating him is a sucker's game.

Amy Adams is Susan, a woman between two marriages, as it were: one to a blue chip art dealer (Armie Hammer) who has had enough of her, the other to a failed novelist named Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) whom she sloughed off for his lack of ambition.

This bird in a gilded cage—or rather, this bird in a $5 million concrete modernist bunker with an apparently motor-oil filled swimming pool out back—receives Sheffield's new novel in galley form. It's a potboiler's potboiler about a remote Texas road, a trio of rapacious hillbillies, and an indomitable lawman (Michael Shannon) named Andes, just like the mountains, who goes beyond the law to track down the criminals.

Is Susan's obsession with the book, and her numbness to everything else, due to the fact that she was a victim in the real version of the fictionalized story Sheffield unfolds?

Answer is: who cares? Under layers of makeup that a Japanese geisha might protest, Adams and her cohorts live a life of blood-freezing affluence. Their clothes are more alive than they are. Ford's cloudscapes—equal, if perhaps surpassing, the fraught cumuluS in Michael Mann's films—hover ominously. A shot of L.A. palm trees in a dirty mist makes them look like they're smoldering. The most interesting scenes in this movie have no humans in them.

No matter how insufferably gussied, Nocturnal Animals is standard rape-revenge. Ford doesn't miss a trick, from long, long cat-and-mousing by hillbillies to cornered rapist telling the avenger that he doesn't have the guts to pull the trigger.

A little touch of abortion-remorse is the cherry on this cupcake. Still, Shannon is so damned good and dirty that he keeps the film from dying of its own fanciness.

Nocturnal Animals
R; 117 Min.
Camera 7, CineArts, Aquarius

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