Movie: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

As I have written before, I own a lot of physical media.  Regularly hitting certain deals usually results in me acquiring movies for a pittance movies of which I am previously unaware.  I like to go into a movie educated yet knowing as little as I can about the plot, so I’ll check out the score on IMDB (and maybe a couple of reviews if the score isn’t good) and, if the price is right, I’ll roll the dice.

Such was the case with Nocturnal Animals.  The sum total I knew before dropping $4 on it was it is a critically well-reviewed thriller with a solid cast (Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Sheen, Michael Shannon, Laura Linney).

The opening credits have four very obese, upper-middle-aged women gyrating naked in slow motion.  Needless to say, I was lamenting four bucks I would never see again. 

Turns out that was an installation at Amy Adams’s art gallery.  Even when the movie was over, I still couldn’t figure out why this particular imagery was used.  It didn’t seem to be relevant to anything else in the film, even as pure symbolism.

After the art gallery show, we follow Adams to her ultra-modern (read: austere) mansion.  We will soon see her have a terse conversation her husband in a kitchen doubtlessly neither has ever cooked in.  These are wealthy people in their grey house, they’re clothed entirely in black and grey, and they have cold conversations with each other.

The movie shifts gears entirely once she receives a manuscript of her ex-husband’s latest novel, and we’re off on a storyline that is the book as she is reading it.  Occasionally, we jump back out into the world where Adams is reading the book.  Another thread interwoven between these two is Adams’s relationship with her first husband, which I think I’ll call thread 2 ½.  So, you get nearly 3 plots for the price of one, none of which would have made a good standalone feature and cross-cutting from one to the other doesn’t help much, either.

The world of the book, also called Nocturnal Animals, is the most interesting thread, though that still isn’t saying much.  Curiously, the main character in the book is Jake Gyllenhaal, who also plays Adams’s first husband.  So we have a guy writing as himself, even though it is a work of fiction.

The main scene in the book (and, consequently, the movie) is a rural nightmare scenario where city folk encounter scary rednecks on an isolated spot of road far from cell phone reception.  It’s something we’ve seen done many many many times before, and it is pretty easy to tap into that fear, but it still has been done much better elsewhere.

Now, while doing my best to not give away any plot developments, I have a couple of problems with the movie at point in its runtime, chiefly:

  • The way it portrays non-urbanites is as inhuman monsters or, at best, more humane but still rural stereotypes
  • And yet the movie also portrays urbanites largely as pseudo-intellectual, pompous asses—and that’s the demographic that would most likely be watching this movie
  • …all of which leaves us with nobody to root for
  • …and Gyllenhaal’s book has a serious tragedy that, in the end, his character in real life appears to equate with a betrayal that ending his marriage to Adams

I don’t want to make Nocturnal Animals sound worse than it is, and yet I can’t recommend a movie that has multiple stories of equal uninterest to tell, insults its target audience, insults anybody who isn’t their target audience and tries to equate genuine human tragedy to feelings of betrayal.  Like it’s opening credit sequence, for which I have yet to find any associations with the remainder of the film, it felt pointless, self-important and ugly.

Can I have my $4 back?

Dir: Tom Ford

Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon

Watched on blu-ray