Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Tom Ford's adaptation, NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, tackles art (in several forms) and love

Based on the novel, Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright, the new film from Tom Ford -- famous fashion designer-turned-moviemaker who earlier gave us A Single Man -- NOCTURNAL ANIMALS appears to be about some extraordinarily shallow people attempting to connect (or re-connect). But, again, as with his earlier film, to quote the famous Ms Stein, "There's no 'there' there." Visually, as we might expect from Mr. Ford, the movie is often jolting or chicly impressive; character-wise, it is running almost entirely on empty and cliché.

From Ford's opening scene (the filmmaker is shown at left) -- in which grossly obese nude women dance, burlesque-style, in enormous video projections, while their real-life counterparts laze throughout a huge art gallery in a kind of performance-art installation -- we are treated to, I presume, the filmmaker's idea of how far our degenerate art world has sunk. (If this is not his point, then I guess I would have to include him and his movie into this same sink hole.)

The art gallery owner herself (another versatile performance from Amy Adams, above) freely admits what trash this art show is, as she mulls over the possibility of giving all this up and joining the ranks of hoi polloi. Her friend consuls her that she has a much happier life as she is, and that's as far as that idea ever goes.

Into this gallery owner's life arrives a manuscript of a novel about to be published, written by her ex-husband (played by Jake Gyllenhaal, above), who has dedicated his novel to her and now wants her to read it. She does, and the movie then divides its time between the story embedded in that novel and the gallery owner, whose life present and past we learn about in bits and pieces and flashbacks.

All of this, however, is offered up to us as almost shockingly generic. Her ex's novel, which deals in a random highway incident culminating in rape, murder, guilt and finally revenge, is pulpy and obvious, while the supposed "love" story, involving the husband and wife in their younger, happier and more innocent days, provides little more than standard-issue characterization that does not allow us to care about nor remain much interested in these people.

The screenplay is awash in the obvious -- everything from self-help bromides like Don't-turn-into-your-mother to the usual art-vs-commerce stuff. There little that's specific and engaging here. But perhaps that's Ford's point: Do our lives simply mimic bad pulp novels? The world of Ms Adam's character is certainly a gloomy one: a faithless, unloving husband; a career that no longer provides satisfaction; and the usual set of stock-but-chi-chi friends (with Armie Hammer, Andrea Riseborough and Michael Sheen all wasted in these roles).

What little life the movie has is found in the visualized novel, with Michael Shannon (above) again doing a great job in the fairly thankless role of a taciturn cop, and Aaron Tayor-Johnson (below), glowering sleazily and sexily as the lead villain of the piece.

In all of this emptiness, there is, finally, no real point (that hasn't been made a thousand times previously) right up to and including an ending that, while at least pleasantly subtle, seems also staggeringly pointless. What? After all this nonsense, you actually expect us to give a shit?

By its close Nocturnal Animals may remind you of something like the stillborn collaboration between, say, Douglas Sirk and Jim Thompson, slightly updated into the 21st Century: a bizarre piece of pulp melodrama, greatly gussied up and striving with all its might to ascend into art. Or even into something marginally pertinent. I am not sure if the film is only pretending to not understand how pointless it is, or if Mr. Ford actually is this clueless. Perhaps we should think of his movie as a near-perfect entry into the upcoming America of Donald Trump.

From Focus Features and running a lengthy 117 minutes, Nocturnal Animals opens this Friday, November 18, in major cities across the country. Here in South Florida, it will play the AMC's Aventura 24 and Sunset Place 24, and Regal's South Beach Stadium 18, Miami; the Gateway 4, Fort Lauderdale; and the Cinemark  20 and Regal Shadowood 16 in Boca Raton. To see all currently scheduled playdates throughout the country, click here (then "x" out the trailer so you can view the info you actually came for).

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