Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)
The older I get, the less I want to see this kind of shit.
“Nocturnal Animals,” written and directed by Tom Ford, from a novel by Austin Wright, spends two hours veering between the dull and horrific.
On the dull side, we watch Susan Morrow, a beautiful modern-art gallery director, with long red hair forever cascading down one side of her face, trapped inside her beautiful glass house. Her marriage to her beautiful husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer), is falling apart and the girl just doesn’t know what to do with herself. So she reads an early galley of a novel, “Nocturnal Animals,” that her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), not only sent to her but dedicated to her.
The novel is the horrific part. In it, a husband and father, Tony (whom Susan imagines as Edward), and his attractive red-haired wife and daughter (whom Susan imagines as Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber), are run off the road in the middle of the night in Bumfuck, West Texas by three yahoos, led by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Feigning to help, the yahoos slowly terrorize the family until two of them kidnap the wife and daughter in Tony’s car. The third drives Tony into the middle of the West Texas desert and dumps him. Near death, Tony makes his way back to the road and gets a ride to the police station, where he meets the local sheriff, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), who investigates. And outside of an abandoned shack in the middle of the desert, they find the wife and daughter: naked, raped, murdered, and provocatively (one might say artistically) posed.
For some reason, Susan keeps reading.
Me, I would’ve thrown the book across the room. I would’ve walked out of the movie but I was at the theater with a friend. The movie plays off my worst fears—not being strong enough to protect those who need protecting—and gives nothing back for the trauma: no art, no insight. The Sheriff eventually tracks the yahoos but Ray is released for ... lack of evidence? Or does he make a plea deal? Either way, Andes, who’s dying of cancer, and Tony plot to kidnap and kill him but he gets away. Then Tony tracks him to the abandoned shack, has a gun on him, lets him yap. About raping and murdering his wife and daughter. And still Tony doesn’t act. He actually waits until Ray attacks him with a poker before shooting. Both men die. The end.
Well, the end of the novel anyway. The movie keeps going. Back to the boring part.
To be honest, it ends OK. After reading this awfulness, Susan gets it in her head to meet up with Tony at a romantic restaurant. She’s obviously thinking that she shouldn’t have left him in the first place—that her rich, bitchy mother (Laura Linney), seen in flashback, got into her head, and Susan began to see Edward through her mother’s eyes as a failure. Oh right: the abortion, too. Back in the day, just as she began a fling with Hutton, she finds she’s pregnant with Edward’s child but decides to abort the baby. Afterwards, she’s crying in a car in Hutton’s big consoling arms when she spots Edward watching them with cold, betrayed eyes.
So is the novel revenge of a kind? For the abortion or the affair? And if she had the abortion, who’s the red-headed, college-age daughter she rings up shortly after starting the novel? Hutton’s? How old is Amy Adams supposed to be here?
Regardless, she gets dolled up to meet Edward at a swanky restaurant, arrives first, has a drink, and slowly realizes that he’s not coming; he’s standing her up. That’s the end of the movie.
And is that Edward’s final revenge? If so, how does he know she’d react the way she reacted to the novel? Here’s a story about a woman similar to you being raped and murdered; I totally know you’ll fall for me again after reading it. And THEN I’ll stand you up. Ha ha.
Me, I’m done with this kind of thing. I can’t imagine why Tom Ford of all people chose something so pointless and depraved for his second feature.