Nocturnal Animals (R)

Drama 117 min. December 9, 2016
By Bilge Ebiri
Tom Ford has entirely overstuffed his nesting-doll domestic drama-cum-thriller Nocturnal Animals, and yet I spent much of the film worrying that it might not have a point. Its aesthetic footprint is huge, but its impact decidedly small scale.

The film unfolds in three interlocking strands: Fancy-pants gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), living a life of chilly comfort with her unfaithful husband Hutton (Armie Hammer), receives the manuscript of a novel written by her ex Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The book he's written offers the second strand, telling the grisly story of Tony (Gyllenhaal, again), a Texas man who's on a road trip with his beautiful wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter India (Ellie Bamber) when they're accosted by a carload of rednecks on an empty stretch of highway.

As Susan reads all this, enraptured, she's reminded of her early days with Edward, whom she'd known since they were kids. This is the third strand; looking back on their brief, doomed romance, she recalls how her wealthy, conservative Texas family didn't want her marrying him. "He is too weak for you," we see her unforgiving mother (Laura Linney) warn over a martini lunch.

We've seen lots of layered fictional narratives, in film and literature, that create correspondences between art and artist. What makes Nocturnal Animals so striking is how it all winds up focusing on the accusation that was hurled at both Edward and Tony -- that they're too "weak" -- and the unlikely ways that both men find to take revenge on those who wronged them. It's kind of petty, when you really think about it -- all this over the juvenile notion of being too soft.
Tom Ford Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Karl Glusman, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen Tom Ford, Austin Wright Focus Features

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