‘Nocturnal Animals’ is a sham

Grade C-

By: 
AARON JENNINGS AARON@LEBANONDAILYRECORD.COM

Here is a movie dripping with metaphors and imagery that isn’t worth the time of day. A slick, sometimes trashy, visually engaging (or revolting — depends on what you’re into) pulp drama intended to be a thoughtful and provocative thriller. I can tell you without hesitation — it’s a sham.

“Nocturnal Animals” is the type of movie released around award season with a great cast, a good director, and an interesting idea where everything falls flat. Movies like this come out every year, and usually, they’re much easier to spot. 

But this movie is so rich in style and features so many narratives that director Tom Ford may convince you that his gilded movie is something of importance. I know I bought it the first go-around. Never again. 

The first four minutes of “Nocturnal Animals” serve no greater purpose for the rest of the film. They are there for shock and style alone. Dressed in nothing but boots and a silly marching band hat, older obese women dance naked to a beautiful tune by composer Abel Korzeniowski. The scene resembles the opening credits of a James Bond movie, but we learn they are a part of Susan Morrow’s (Amy Adams) art gallery. 

Morrow is an art dealer who lives a lavish life with her charming husband (Armie Hammer). Her show is a success, and her hoity-toity friends who look like they live inside a velvet castle tell her she’s brilliant (I’m not kidding — a velvet castle).

Morrow isn’t sure of her art show, and she seems lost in the world of things. She worries about her husband, and she can’t stop thinking about the copy of a novel (called Nocturnal Animals) her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) sent her. In flashbacks throughout the movie, we learn how they met and drifted apart.

On the surface, the present and the flashbacks appear to be brilliant. The color of each section perfectly sums up the mood of each character. When the characters are cold, the costumes and the production design reflect. When the happy past is shown, everything is warm and cozy. But none of this matters. 
The key story takes place in the novel Sheffield sent Morrow. As she reads, we see the dusty world of West Texas where another set of characters are interacting. Tony (again Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter are traveling to Marfa for vacation. On their way, the family encounters a group of criminals that force their car off the road and do terrible things.

In the rest of the novel, one of the characters seeks the help of an old-school lawman Bobby Andes played by Michael Shannon. Shannon received an Academy Award nomination for Best Supporting Actor for this role. He’s a simple character, and deserving of recognition. Shannon might be one of the most unusual (and underused) actors working today.

I’m sure I’ve said this before about someone else, but Shannon always finds new ways to make it easy to like him. He dominated the screen in “Take Shelter” as the lead character, and he dominates in “Nocturnal Animals” as a supporting role.

Andes’ personal brand of justice is refreshing, and Shannon’s performance is the only one that acts like a normal human.

All of the other characters in this movie act like they’re from a different world. Especially Adams. Amy Adams’ earrings are more interesting than her character, which isn’t a compliment to her earrings. She mopes about her home as she reads the story and takes a shower, and then a bath. The stories go back and forth like this for some time. They feed off each other. They also suck the life out of you. But there is something to look forward to.

As all three stories unfold, the music (score) becomes more dynamic and is used more freely. A great score can trick an audience into thinking more is happening in a movie than you think. And this score is very good. 

Korzeniowski’s score is the heart of the movie and the only thing that makes scenes without Shannon interesting. Not only is it by far the best element of the movie — without it — the movie would suffer greatly. 

The scenes in West Texas are a different story, though. They are worth watching, and they slowly become more dark, and more depressing. Maybe it has something to do with the sand and tumbleweeds. I imagine it’s hard to grow something there. And in the West Texas of “Nocturnal Animals,” it’s also hard to keep things alive.

“Nocturnal Animals” is available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital on-demand.

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