1. Life & Culture

Review: Movies like 'Nocturnal Animals' give America a bad reputation

Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, an art museum curator with first-world problems and a disturbing ex-husband. 
Focus Features
Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, an art museum curator with first-world problems and a disturbing ex-husband. Focus Features
Published Nov. 29, 2016

Nocturnal Animals is why they hate us, whoever we are for others to despise.

As a citizen of the Western world, Tom Ford's movie is a billboard of cultural decadence, its grotesque nudity and violence polished to an empty, artful sheen. ISIS could use it for recruitment, an example of the infidel enemy.

Nocturnal Animals is an example of why Hollywood and every cog in its machine is branded as deviant, mostly by heartlanders feeling pretty smug about America's direction right now. Ford made the exception they can appoint as the rule.

This is a soulless endeavor that would alarm if Ford devised it on his own. Instead, he shares blame with Austen Wright's novel Tony and Susan, adapted into parallel narratives: one empty, the other leaking blood. Revenge is the common thread: one gruesome, the other an SMH fade to black. Ford's impressive 2009 debut A Single Man doesn't prepare viewers for his pulpish indulgences here.

Nocturnal Animals is unhinged from the outset, its opening frames a procession of aged, obese and stark naked women shaking pom poms at the camera, in slow motion to allow studying each fold of skin. It's part of a modern art museum exhibit curated by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams in glum mode). Ford's cynical message that art is junk is well taken but doesn't need this much confirmation.

Susan's life is first-world troublesome: a cheating husband (Armie Hammer), bills to pay and not many lines to say. Good thing her ex-husband Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) sent a galley of his new novel, dedicated to Susan. Why Susan and Tony broke up is the deep, dark no big deal being exaggerated in trailers for Nocturnal Animals.

Susan reads Tony's novel, a grindhouse tale of vigilante nastiness. Gyllenhaal pulls double acting duty as a husband and father on vacation, driving with his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) when they are road raged by rednecks. Ford's handling of this nightmare is ruthless, marked with unsettling choices; corpses photographed like a fashion shoot, the rawest of threats and following through.

This is the novel Tony dedicates to Susan, the woman who wronged him, who resembles a victim in his increasingly savage book. Reading it has spurred bad memories and a twinge of fear. Naturally, she wants to meet for dinner. Nocturnal Animals glides in that direction until something happens that you'd never expect, which is nothing. Spoiler alert.

Not that everything about Nocturnal Animals is repellent. Any movie giving roles to Michael Shannon and Laura Linney can't be all bad. Aaron Taylor-Johnson lends a couple of new shadings to Deliverance menace. The problem is Ford, trying on something from David Lynch's closet, never minding that the material doesn't fit.

Contact Steve Persall at or (727) 893-8365. Follow @StevePersall.


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