Nocturnal Animals (2016)

What we have here is a failure to communicate to an audience its intentions. Either that or I simply failed to connect to its intentions and its overall thesis. Which isn't a necessarily a bad thing, mind you. Sometimes one connects to other elements, like the acting, cinematography and individual moments. Which is mostly the case here. It may have been a movie that aimed for the mind and the heart, but it comes up short for both. Make no mistake, I was able to comprehend it but much like Tom Ford's previous film, I admired the film rather than being fully engaged and shaken by what takes place. It's possible that Ford wanted a sense of disassociation since Susan (played by a muted Amy Adams) seems disassociated as a result of something she did in her past that she proclaims as "unforgivable."

It's interesting thinking of correlations between Adams' character here and the one in ARRIVAL. Both involve major life decisions that inform existential ideas that the filmmakers present. ARRIVAL worked on me far more as an emotional experience, while here, I was just along for the ride and remained curious, particularly once Michael Shannon shows up. What starts as a lush, vibrant Tom Ford movie (with a memorable Refn-esque opening credits sequence) transforms into a gritty kidnapping thriller the likes of HELL OR HIGH WATER. It's interesting to see Ford balance tone here, but there's no doubt that by the end, the marriage isn't entirely successful since the two storylines remain separate without fully coming together.

At first I was a little concerned we were in Refn territory where it's more about the lush grandiosity and aesthetics. But once the structure between "novel" storyline and the reader, I was on board because of the actors and sporadic intensity that erupts in a Cormac McCarthy-like manner. Once Michael Shannon shows up to steal the show, a dark comedy noir emerges to complement the rather bleak nightmare taking place. There are even a couple of jump scares and a fractured puzzle-like quality that becomes troubling. However, the way the pieces com together left me unsatisfied. Ford more or less makes a choice in the final minutes that didn't sit well. It might work well as a thesis, but not as a satisfying narrative note to leave the audience feeling like the time spent in this world was worth it. In the end, it's just a simple story about poor, complex choices that don't sit well with us as time goes on. Again, like Ford's last film, I didn't find much to think about or revisit despite enjoying my time spent with these characters in the split narrative. If you're a fan of this ensemble (again, can't stress enough how great Michael Shannon is) you'll find a lot to appreciate here. But you may also walk out feeling like they deserved much better.  C+

James Laczkowski