Watching Nocturnal Animals is like watching a Charles Bronson retrospective inside a plush, red-velvet-wrapped salon in some minor European city’s film festival. The trappings give aesthetic importance to what’s going on up front, which isn’t really that different from a Golan-Globus rape-revenge shocker.
Celebrities turn up (including Michael Sheen and Laura Linney) to validate the significance of what we’re watching. We’re presumed to find the framing by photographer-turned-director-turned-back-to-photographer Tom Ford positively Lynchian, as though we’re meant to be captives on rides on lost highways. But there’s only one David Lynch, and imitating him is a sucker’s game.
Amy Adams is Susan, a woman between two marriages, as it were: one to a blue chip art dealer (Armie Hammer), who has had enough of her, the other to failed novelist Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), whom she sloughed off for his lack of ambition.
This bird in a gilded cage—or, rather, this bird in a $5 million concrete modernist bunker with an apparently motor-oil-filled swimming pool out back—receives Sheffield’s new novel in galley form. It’s a potboiler’s potboiler about a remote Texas road trip, a trio of rapacious hillbillies and an indomitable lawman (Michael Shannon) named Andes, just like the mountains, who goes beyond the law to track down the criminals.
Is Susan’s obsession with the book, and her numbness to everything else, due to the fact that she was a victim in the real version of the fictionalized story Sheffield unfolds? Answer is, who cares?
Under layers of makeup that a Japanese geisha might protest against as too much, Adams and her cohorts live a life of blood-freezing affluence. Their clothes are more alive than they are. Ford’s cloudscapes, perhaps surpassing the fraught cumulus clouds in a Michael Mann film, hover ominously. A shot of Los Angeles palm trees in a dirty mist makes them look like they’re smoldering. The most interesting scenes in this movie, in fact, have no people in them.
No matter how insufferably gussied, Nocturnal Animals is standard rape-revenge. Ford doesn’t miss a trick, from long cat-and-mousing by hillbillies to a cornered rapist telling the avenger that he doesn’t have the guts to pull the trigger.
A touch of abortion-remorse is the cherry on this cupcake. Still, Shannon is so damned good and dirty that he keeps the film from dying of its own fanciness.
‘Nocturnal Animals’ is playing at Summerfield Cinemas,
551 Summerfield Road, Santa Rosa; 707.522.0719.