by ELEANOR MORROW
dir. Tom Ford
Amy Adams’ real-life husband looks terrible with facial hair, like it is clinging to his face as a small animal might in impotent rage. Her husband in Nocturnal Animals is a clean-shaven Arnie Hammer. He is twelve years younger than her and is usually in New York with his girlfriend. She doesn’t sleep nights, and despite the fact that she is rapidly running out of money, she employs a full security detail. One weekend her husband heads out of town and she has nothing to do; I guess she has already cleansed her Netflix queue and Emerald City hasn’t made it way to television yet. She decides to read a book to fill the time. She can’t choose between Proust and the manuscript of a novel by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) that arrived in the post on Friday.
After opting for the latter, she reads his book over the course of the next few days. It is terrible. Basically it’s about this guy (still Jake Gyllenhaal) whose wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter are raped and murdered. A detective (Michael Shannon, hamming it up for his own entertainment) semi-blames Gyllenhaal for the crimes since he never resisted or anything. In response to these allegations, Jake shaves his beard. He’s the only man in the world who doesn’t look older with facial hair.
As I said, this is a very bad book that Edward Sheffield has written. It makes Amy Adams think of when she told Edward Sheffield that he should not write about himself anymore, and instead should make up stories about women getting raped and murdered and how upset that makes the men in their lives. The only action any woman takes in Nocturnal Animals is to read a book and have an abortion. That’s it. That’s what a woman is capable of.
But I completely forgive director Tom Ford, because Nocturnal Animals either takes itself way too seriously or doesn’t at all. There are many amusing scenes in this milieu. Amy has a very entertaining house, all glass and so many countertops. She loves Apple, everything they make. Amy wears this dark color lipstick that makes her look absolutely ridiculous, even though she doesn’t really have to do much except read in bed. For this task she dons a series of increasingly absurd eyeglasses. Whenever she dresses up, she looks like she is about to attend a Festivus party.
Early on in Nocturnal Animals, there is a very fun scene where Amy talks to a friend (Andrea Riseborough) of hers who is married to Michael Sheen. Ford, who is gay himself, has the friend explain how much better it is to be lifelong partners with a gay man. “We’re best friends,” she explains. Amy Adams sort of nods like she sees the wisdom of this approach.
Despite the fact that she is a mere ten years older than Amy Adams, Laura Linney plays her disapproving mother. It is hard to imagine how this could really work, although I guess the insinuation is that since Adams’ character is a product of rape, Edward Sheffield’s novel was really an attack on her. There are a lot of angles to Nocturnal Animals that I haven’t figured out yet, mostly because I was so insulted by it.
Tom Ford’s approach to directing actors is where he really shines. He seemingly does not tell any of his performers how to play the scenes at all. It is insane on the surface that a revenge novel involving men in Texas would have the exact same tone as a story about a woman who regrets dumping Jake Gyllenhaal for Arnie Hammer, but even putting that aside, half the actors in Noctural Animals seem to believe it is a satire.
While most of the performers think they are in an actual movie, Michael Shannon senses this thing is off the rails. Shannon’s Texas accent is amusing, and Ford even seems to have fun with some of his lines he creates for the West Texas cop, sensing that this story desperately needs at least a tiny bit of humor to prevent itself from becoming Showgirls. The writing here is certainly Joe Eszterhas-quality.
After finishing the novel, Amy Adams is pretty excited to meet up with Jake Gyllenhaal. She cannot decide exactly what lipstick to go with, and at the last moment she wipes it off her lips entirely. I suppose she figures she should most resemble the person that Jake Gyllenhaal was attracted to in the first place. She plans dinner at this extremely haughty Los Angeles restaurant that probably would not even seat Michael Shannon. The ceilings are so high you cannot even see them.
Amy orders scotch or bourbon and waits for her date. Edward Sheffield never shows, because he is pretending not to care, even though he cared enough to not only send her a manuscript of his shit novel, but dedicate the entire book to her. He could have stayed for one drink.
Eleanor Morrow is the senior contributor to This Recording.