“I think that to be really really good you have to come from someplace inside that I’m just not sure I have.” – Susan Morrow, Nocturnal Animals (2016)
You know, when I was looking at the quotes for this film for the beginning of my review, I never really realised how shallow the film was. Every line I found was some generic, no context, life affirming garbage. The final nail in the coffin though is that I recognise none of the lines, odd considering I watched the film just over a month ago. To be fair, before watching this film I hadn’t heard a single thing about Nocturnal Animals. It all happened by chance, I managed to find a copy of the Blu-Ray for a very reasonable price of £1.50. So technically, no matter how good or bad the film, I was technically getting my money’s worth.
That kick-starts me right into the biggest flaw of this movie, the writing. Look at the quote I used at the start of this review. It’s a fucking awful line of dialogue, and yet critics seemingly loved Nocturnal Animals. I’m not sure what they loved it for though. Maybe the critical love is due to Michael Shannon, who popped up in this movie in a severely coincidental fashion. After my last review featured a very prominent Shannon performance in The Shape of Water (2017), I was very excited to see what an Oscar nominated performance would provide. He’s very quickly becoming one of my favourite actors and I’m really not sure how he’s managed to make such a good impression in such a short while.
Presumably I should be able to cope with Gyllenhaal’s character, right? Being able to use a traumatic experience to create some of the best writing available. Unfortunately that isn’t how it often works. The most traumatic thing to happen to me so far is that time I ran out of packaged pasta. Anyways, it’s an overbearing cliche in film – that trauma leads to inspiration. Sure, it can do in some cases, but in most cases it’s not something that really happens. Even if it does, then there’s no reason for Gyllenhaal’s character(s) to be so weird and completely disconnected from reality.
To be honest, none of the characters feel inspired or unique in any way. This feels like an odd thing to comment on given how unique the plot of the film actually is. But no matter how I spin this, there’s something very formulaic about the film and I can’t quite put my finger on what that may be. Judging by the direction throughout and the plot itself, Tom Ford is good at making Oscar bait movies. His direction is that of a generic nobody, nothing really worth displaying or showing off throughout. He’s very much the Brett Ratner of dramatic movies. The drama throughout the movie feels extremely forced and at times is frail and simply not interesting.
Ford’s direction is split into two categories. On the one hand he has some brilliant establishing shots. How Ford frames a shot is genuinely unique and given a better script this would be some of the best directing to date. But on the other hand, it’s seemingly constricted, to the point where you have to ask what the purpose of the direction really is. While he blocks shots very nicely, it doesn’t matter when the story is so obscure, masqueraded by the visions of the director. A director working against himself is never a pretty sight, and it really doesn’t work here. His direction could be better suited to a more simplistic format, with a few of his tropes definitely in need of culling. The constant switches between multiple timelines without a moment’s notice breaks the flow all too often.
There was nothing in the plot that kept me hooked. Nobody was performing to such a standard that I just needed to see where their performance was going to take me. Not even Shannon was up to the task of making this movie even close to bearable. I think one of the main problems was all the weird cuts to reality, where Adams’ character would have flashbacks about her ex-husband, who has now written a troublesome book.
The relevance this has to the movie is null and void once you realise it isn’t going to be explored in any real relevant detail. It would be cool to see how Adams’ directly impacted the choices made within the book, but no such luck. We see nothing of the sort and for the most part are kept relatively in the dark on any and all relationships. We’re not shown the exciting bits and pieces, were shown the traditional mundanity of a stereotypical breakdown of a marriage.
On reflection, I’ve been far too lenient with my review of Nocturnal Animals. For all its sinister and dark energy in the fictional portion of the movie, it’s just as bad as the reality drama. Full of boring flashbacks to scenes that are barely memorable, with dialogue ripped straight from a cheesy B-Movie. Oddly enough the plot of the book is genuinely quite interesting and has some decent bits of tension. But it’s really not worth slogging through the rest of the film to get to. The direction and editing seems very awkward and sometimes it flat out doesn’t work. Hell, if you are going to watch this movie (even though I’d advise you don’t), then you’re probably there to see Michael Shannon do his thing. Nobody else in this movie is going to give you a convincing enough performance.
And that there is the biggest problem of all. The script is so rife with generic lines that it becomes a genuine struggle to connect with any of these characters. Adams’ character comes across as this uptight, innocent hero that influenced the sick and twisted portrait that Gyllenhaal’s character provides. Whether or not that’s something to look into is beyond me. With some truly exceptional pieces of acting from Shannon and some fairly generic uses of lighting and dramatic storytelling, Nocturnal Animals is a uniquely forgettable movie that won’t leave any impact at all. Oh yeah, Martin Sheen is in this movie. I forgot about that bit.