Published Sep 15, 2016Celebrity worship is not a problem exclusive to filmmaking, but it's certainly something that has popped up frequently of late. In addition to Ewan McGregor's disastrous directorial debut American Pastoral, TIFF saw another noteworthy figure refusing to stick to their day job, as fashion designer Tom Ford released another flick.
In fairness, this isn't the first time Ford has stopped tailoring suits for a minute to get behind the lens, but 2009's A Single Man fared far better than Nocturnal Animals does. In fact, the film essentially lays waste to any good faith the sharp-dressed sharpshooter may have earned himself.
Nocturnal Animals is at once absurd, boring, audacious, exquisite and unintentionally laughable — so much so that the film is ultimately a must-see fiasco.
Essentially, the film utilizes the story-within-a-story structure. Amy Adams quietly broods as Susan, a mopey rich lady who occasionally designs ludicrous modern art pieces (the film opens with footage of naked, obese women swinging sparklers around in slow motion — part of Susan's latest art opening). Her husband (Armie Hammer) is preoccupied getting a little too busy on business trips, so she has plenty of time to sit around feeling sorry for herself in their pristine mansion.
One day, her butler presents her with an immaculate package from her first husband. After an awkward and unnecessary scene in which she suffers and tends to a paper cut, she finagles the box open to discover that it's a manuscript for his new novel. As she starts reading, we're transported into the novel's narrative.
This one stars a flailing, over-the-top Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony, while Isla Fisher sits in as what is clearly meant to be a Susan surrogate. Hoping to escape a life where everyone's always on their phones, the novel's young couple decide to bring their developing teen daughter to a cabin in rural Texas.
On a particularly barren stretch of highway, the trio get into a kerfuffle with some sketchy Texans and, without giving too much away, Tony loses his wife and daughter to them. He then teams up with Sheriff Bobby (a reliably outstanding Michael Shannon, who steals every scene and almost saves the movie from itself) to hunt the men down.
Every once in a while, Susan will gasp and drop the book, thus taking us out of those scenes and back into her world. Eventually, we learn why she broke up with her first husband (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal, in a slightly subtler but no less tacky performance) and why she's so bummed out all the time. This is, it becomes apparent, a film about making sure you act on your instincts when you have the chance instead of being crippled by fear.
Nocturnal Animals is drenched in molasses-thick layers of melodrama. Every character is hot and sad in their Bond-ready designer outfits, and the plot often feels ripped straight out of a soap opera. Save for Shannon, the acting is ridiculous, and the overly stylized cinematography meshes with the in-your-face score to make the film seem like a fragrance commercial.
Nocturnal Animals is dumb as hell, but it's undeniably ambitious, and there's something about its overblown stupidity that will stick with you. What a bizarre movie. (Focus Features)