Here’s another title that will show up on my Worst Movies Of 2016 list: “Nocturnal Animals.” It’s a shame because it stars Amy Adams, whose work I generally love, including “Arrival,” which came out just a few weeks ago and will sit at the other end of the spectrum on my Best Movies Of 2016 list (my full review of “Arrival” is here).
Writer/director Tom Ford, who may be responsible for some good stuff in the world of fashion design (I would have no way of knowing), has produced some very bad stuff in “Nocturnal Animals.” It starts out with one of the most visually disturbing sequences of the year — a bunch of very overweight women dancing completely naked. I’m not fat-shaming these women. It’s just that, for the same reason no one wants to see my nude body shaking all around, I didn’t need to see them. It’s a jarring start to a movie that made me less than hopeful about what was to follow.
Adams plays wealthy art gallery owner Susan Morrow, who is unhappy with her life, particularly because her husband (Armie Hammer) seems completely uninterested in her. Then one day, one of her servants brings her a package that’s just been delivered. Inside is a manuscript by her first husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).
Susan sits down to read the manuscript — which is pretty much all Adams gets to do for the remainder of the film, unfortunately — while we see its story played out onscreen. Interestingly (and that’s the only time I’ll use that word while discussing “Nocturnal Animals”), because we’re seeing the story as Susan is reading it, we see her casting for the characters within. For example, the husband in the manuscript (Tony) is also played by Gyllenhaal, while his wife is played by Isla Fisher, who looks just like Adams.
As the manuscript’s plot develops, we see Tony, his wife, and daughter driving on a two-lane road through the Texas night. They are run off the road by three thugs who take the mother, daughter, and their car and, after beating the crap out of Tony, leave him in the middle of nowhere. He eventually finds his way to a farmhouse, where he uses the phone to call the cops. Now we meet detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) who, in working the case, discovers that Tony’s wife and daughter were raped and murdered.
While this action-driven story is playing out, Ford takes us back a couple of times to Susan’s staid life, which is monumentally boring by comparison. And there’s the problem with “Nocturnal Animals.” We have no interest in Susan and her rich arsty-fartsy life and domestic problems. Cutting away from Gyllenhaal and Shannon to show us more of that is a waste of time. That said, the story-within-the-story is pretty formulaic in and of itself, and Ford never makes us care about anyone, fictional or otherwise.
From beginning to end, I didn’t like a single thing about “Nocturnal Animals.” When you can make a movie this bad with talented people like Adams, Gyllenhaal, and Shannon (plus Laura Linney and Michael Sheen in very small roles), you’ve simply blown an opportunity.
I give it a 1 on a scale of 10.