Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal star in writer-director Tom Ford’s emotionally distant second film
“Nocturnal Animals” is a strange beast: A movie and a movie-within-a-movie where everything is a stand-in for something else but nothing feels resolved.
Amy Adams is Susan Morrow (not far off from “sorrow”), an L.A. art gallery owner who feels disconnected from her work and distant from her philandering second husband (Armie Hammer).
She receives a manuscript from her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), titled “Nocturnal Animals,” which is dedicated to her. It concerns a husband (Gyllenhaal), a lookalike wife (Isla Fisher), the red-headed daughter they never had and a roadside run-in with a couple of bad apples (led by a crazy-eyed Aaron Taylor-Johnson).
The “Nocturnal Animals” storyline, a plunge into the depths and fears of Edward’s masculinity, takes over the film’s narrative, and Adams is reduced to gasping shots as she reacts to the text.
The book forces Susan to confront her feelings about Edward, and we revisit their relationship in flashback. Their love was pure, but she feared his dreams of being a writer would leave them broke. She was essentially acting on the feelings of her mother, Anne (Laura Linney in a smoldering one-scene cameo), who tells Susan plainly, “we eventually all turn into our mothers.” The way it’s delivered, it might as well be a death sentence.
So we’ve got mommy issues, male rage, and a batty Michael Shannon (he plays a lawman storyline). But writer-director Tom Ford, in his second movie (following 2009’s “A Single Man”), can’t connect the dots on an emotional level.
The film feels mystifying and cold, a product of the pretentious art world he’s critiquing. His distance creates a wall the film’s multiple narratives can’t overcome.
Rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language