VISUALS SAVE MUNDANE TALE
Film Review by Fiore
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is garnering a lot of attention this awards season. It’s the type of film condescending critics from the two letter cities love; a seemingly monothematic oeuvre which works on several levels for those willing to search for hidden meanings. While the movie is stylish, having the mien of an award winner, it is basically a tale told too long with a lengthy mid-section of esoteric babble causing the film’s pace to slow like the proverbial molasses in January.
Director, producer and writer Tom Ford begins with a simple lover’s triangle tale. Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) and Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) fall in love and marry during their college post-graduate years. After time, Susan discovers she cannot exist on love alone, and desire the privileges of the silver spoon with which she was born. She dumps Edward for Hutton (Armie Hammer) and is somewhat content living a loveless life complete with creature comforts. Edward reenters Susan’s life years later, by sending her a manuscript of his forthcoming novel. The novel contains all the elements of life she craves – love, violence, revenge and justice. It is here NOCTURNAL ANIMALS takes a nice turn.
Rather than stay on the mundane lover’s triangle, Ford presents the story of the novel. In it, Tony Hastings (played by Gyllenhaal in a dual role) and his family are travelling for a weekend excursion, when a group of nefarious no-goods waylay them on the highway. After a grueling sequence of mischief and torture, Tony’s wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are raped and murdered. Tony is left abandoned in the middle of the desert. Soon, he connects with Sheriff Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) who is hellbent on bringing the jackals to justice.
Gyllenhaal is in fine acting form. He is riding the crest of an acting wave from his powerful performance in NIGHTCRAWLER. Shannon is just as convincing in his role as he was when playing General Zod in MAN OF STEEL. Adams offers a strong performance, but one that is not complimentary toward women, indicting them as vindictive materialists.
KEY SCENES TO LOOK FOR:
1. THE BOARD MEETING
2. WAILING AT THE BAR
The true stars of NOCTURNAL ANIMALS are Seamus McGarvey and Joan Sobel, who serve as cinematographer and editor, respectively. McGarvey shoots both stories with similar shots. As they are told simultaneously, he dissolves from one tale to the other with the same shot composition. It is an appealing visual technique.
Sobel does a fine job splicing McGarvey’s shots together, but she stumbles twice, and each is monumental.
As mentioned earlier, the middle of NOCTURNAL ANIMALS slows to a crawl. Part of this may be blamed on Ford as scriptwriter, but the sequence becomes too philosophical on a fortune cookie level, and crumbles all the tension and suspense built heretofore. It has the effect of making the two-hour movie seem like a mini-series. The second is the use of a jump cut in the film’s opening reel. That thud you hear is the sound of thousands of my former students collapsing on the floor at the mention of the dreaded, mortal sin of celluloid - the jump cut. Anyone using this technique on any level of filmmaking, should be quartered and shot at dawn. Period.
There is a quite respectable score by Abel Korzeniowski, and certainly Francine Maisler should be credited for bringing Gyllenhaal, Shannon and Adams together as they form a powerful film trio.
It is billed and promoted as a revenge tale, but NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is a simplistic character study wrapped around the eternal lover’s triangle. It’s clever presentation of a story inside a story is what sets the movie apart. Without the visual imagery, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, like Quentin Tarantino’s PULP FICTION, is much ado about nothing.
THE GRADE FOR NOCTURNAL ANIMALS = C