“Nocturnal Animals” seeks to be a stylish awards contender

Ever since his feature debut A Single Man, cinema fans have been anxious to see more from fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford. This week, they get their wish, as his sophomore outing Nocturnal Animals opens. It seeks to follow in the footsteps of A Single Man and appeal to Academy voters. Personally, I don’t think it’s quite up to that level, but others certainly disagree. Oscar will have its say before long, so let’s see if we can figure out what might happen then. If nothing else, this is a distinctive movie, one that shows Ford to be an auteur that’s not going away anytime soon.

The film is an adaptation of the novel Tony and Susan, by Evan Wright. It follows Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), an art gallery owner who is sent a manuscript by her ex husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). It’s called Nocturnal Animals and depicts a man named Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) having his family terrorized while on a road trip. Edward has sent Susan this to get her opinion, but she views it as a confessional and perhaps even a threat. As she reads it, we flash back on how their relationship both came to be and crumbled, as well as see the novel playing out in her head. Ford writes the adaptation and directs, with the supporting cast including Isla Fisher, Karl Glusman, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Shannon, Michael Sheen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and more. Seamus McGarvey handles the cinematography, while the score comes to us from Abel Korzeniowski.

I’ll confess to not being as big a fan of this one as most. In some ways, it’s a lot of sound and fury (or in this case, style and visuals), signifying nothing. Ford has a wonderful director’s eye, but the plot is just kind of junk. Trashy cinema is hardly without its place, but there’s just a disconnect going on here. Adams and Gyllenhaal certainly do their part to sell the material, and they nearly pull it off, with Shannon also contributing for good measure. I just found that by the end, the point being made wasn’t really worth the two hours spent getting there. Your mileage certainly may vary, and I know I’m in the minority, but this is where I came down on it.

In terms of awards, I think Nocturnal Animals could really go either way, especially with Oscar. There’s a day where it gets shut out, but there’s also a day where it does pretty well. For now, a definite campaign is being waged, particularly in Best Picture, Best Director (for Ford), Best Actor (for Gyllenhaal), Best Actress (for Adams), Best Supporting Actor (for Shannon), Best Supporting Actress (for Linney), Best Adapted Screenplay (also for Ford), Best Production Design, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing, Best Hairstyling & Makeup, and Best Original Score. Realistically, it might end up being Adams or bust in Actress, though should could wind up getting in for Arrival instead. We’ll see what happens, but there’s definitely going to be voters who dig this flick.

Basically, Nocturnal Animals is a visual feast looking for a deeper reason to exist. Starting on Friday, you can see this one for yourself and decide if I’m nuts or not. I’m sure some will certainly feel that way, while at least a few others will agree with me. Adams, Gyllenhaal, Linney, and Shannon are on point, with Ford showcasing his pinpoint style, but it just needed a bit more. It’s certainly worthy of existing and being seen, so don’t think this is a bad movie, since it’s not. It’s simply a film that should have been better, in my humble opinion…

Be sure to check out Nocturnal Animals, beginning its theatrical run this weekend!

About Joey Magidson

A graduate of Stony Brook University (where he studied Cinema and Cultural Studies), resides in Brooklyn, New York. He contributes to several other film-related websites and is a member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association.

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