Tuesday, December 13, 2016

[Review] Nocturnal Animals

Fashion designer and movie director Tom Ford unleashes the strange beast that is Nocturnal Animals for his second feature-length film. It's a flawed but gripping endeavor--as ugly as it is stylish. Part modern noir. Part gritty southern detective story. Part relationship drama. Part lurid WTF.

After a bold and provocative opening credits sequence, we meet Susan (Amy Adams), a discontent art gallery owner who dwells in a cold and drab mansion with her dashing but conniving husband (Armie Hammer). Out of the blue, she receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Foreshadowing is abound when she slices her finger opening the package.

As Susan begins reading the novel, the film transitions into a movie-within-a-movie of sorts. Thank God the story is shown and not told--can you imagine going to the theater and having to watch/hear someone scan through a book? Anyway, the novel sees a stand-in for Edward (Gyllenhaal with a beard), his wife (Isla Fisher, bearing an uncanny resemblance to Susan), and their daughter as they get caught up in a highway tussle with a group of greasy scumbags, led by a notoriously nasty Aaron Taylor-Johnson. It's a masterfully tense, stressful, and sweaty scene that unfolds into something that I won't spoil. In fact, there's no sense of catharsis until a hard-nosed detective played Michael Shannon gets involved. From there, the film jumps around between past and present, the novel and the real world--all while reveling in both the power and potency of fiction, art and life.

Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are definitely solid leads, but it's the secondary cast that stuns. Michael Shannon absolutely steals the show in a role that's almost too perfect for him. What a legend, that guy is. Also impressive is Aaron Taylor-Johnson. He plays a maddeningly despicable character, but it actually seems like a real breathing person, as opposed to his aggressively bland leading role in the recent Godzilla reboot. It's a turn that's so committed, dirty, and under-your-skin that it will make you feel the need to take a shower. I also have to mention how amusing it is that well-known look-alikes Amy Adams and Isla Fisher have finally appeared in the same film. And even after this, I'm still not fully convinced that they aren't the same person. (Kidding, of course.)

In contrast to the film's lush cinematography, sublime wardrobes, and pristine frames, the narrative can't help but feel a bit messy. I was disappointed by the lack of payoff and the abrupt ending. On one hand, it's as if Tom Ford crafted a stream of engrossing stories and couldn't figure out how to properly conclude them. But on the other hand, the ending proposes a creepy and spiteful element that's consistent with the film's relentlessly dark tone.

Either way, you'll be thinking about it long afterwards, and well into the night...

( 8/10 )

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