Tom Ford, I like your politics, your clothing line, your eyewear and make-up forays and your first film, “A Single Man” (2009). Your screenplay of the Austin Wright novel “Tony & Susan” just left me cold. What to say. I have not read the novel, but with themes like unending discontent, abuse of power revenge, masculinity and protectiveness, and guilt with accompanying fear, one should feel something in the end besides alas.
Amy Adams is miscast as Susan. She does not play selfish well. Though she tries, Tilda Swinton she is not. Somehow, she interprets her ex-husband novel’s dedication as a reason to examine her past actions. Because she liked to stay up at night, he called her a nocturnal animal. Now, that she has married a cheating husband, she now can feel how she hurt her first by cheating on him and aborting his child. “What goes around, comes around” seems to be a suburban cliché Susan can not bear.
Cleverly, as Susan reads the story of West Texan road rage violence and revenge, we are volleyed back and forth between her truth and his (Tony’s) fiction. It is a story within a story that never meshes. The bullying “Deliverance” – like miscreants are the nocturnals. Their savage rapes and batterings are met with two years of chasing and vigilante closure. Susan has already gotten her just desserts, so take the book’s dedication at face value: Susan was Tony’s best critic. No threats are being made against Susan, but then everything is about Susan. I found her vacuous and boring, deserving of a table for one.
Tony ( Jake Gyllenhaal ) is the protagonist we feel for the most . As an author, he takes Susan’s advice and writes about someone besides himself. What could his character have done to protect his wife and his daughter ? When does a thinking man take visceral action? What is weakness and what is stupidity ? Tony perseveres and Gyllenhaal does him justice. It is just that Director Ford tries so hard to make an art film that almost every scene is extended one-hundred and twenty seconds too long. What is the point of massaging every camera angle when only the overwrought twelve-tone scale is left ?
One of the most overwrought sequences has Susan walking up a marble staircase in stacked-heeled boots. The rather stylized ascent, meant to show that Susan is ambitious, has viewers shoulder-shrugging and sighing, ” so what”.
A similar example of wasted-camera-lingering with no impact is the scene where our villain, Ray Marcus ( Aaron Taylor-Johnson ), squats on a self-plumbed toilet au natural. On his trailer’s extended porch, we even watch him check his wiped tissue~ a film first for me. See if he doesn’t remind you of a younger “Prison Break” ‘s “T- bag”.
My movie partner liked Michael Shannon’s portrayal as “the lung cancer sheriff”. He is a fine actor and shows real empathy to Gyllenhaal’s weakness-angst. Masculinity-driven, he gave a rather Clint Eastward aura to his role, but added a bit of dead-pan quirk.
The West Texas book chapters are very scary: four whacked roadies and car bumping aside. The arch New York speech and social commentary on vaginal rejuvenation, being married to a gay man, and the high-society quotable:” our world is a lot less painful than the real world” are to be noted. Naked, heavy women on red velvet couches must mean something. It can’t just be art.
Laura Linley adds to the cast with her role as Susan’s mother. Looking like Tricia Nixon, her three strands of mega pearls precede her marriage warning. And there is a nightmarish scare for a baby named Willow.
“Nocturnal Animals” is a derivative noir thriller with an odd paradox: too much going on while not enough.