When the elevator pitch for your film relies on a gimmicky narrative device, it’s likely that your film isn’t the masterpiece you think it is. Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals, essentially the story of a woman (Amy Adams) reading a book in bed, is a brutally entertaining and stunningly-manufactured product, but one with absolutely no thematic substance. Adams’ character is introduced as a wealthy art gallery owner, married to the dull and unfaithful Armie Hammer. Upon the delivery of a manuscript by her author ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), she proceeds to devour the novel, a gripping revenge thriller which we are treated to a visual representation of, starring Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher as an Adams stand-in. The story of this novel is, while perhaps less sophisticated, significantly more interesting than that of Ford’s film– maybe this is intentional, but maybe not.
In the story-within-the-story, Gyllenhaal encounters a sadistic rapist (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and a ruthless cop (Michael Shannon), and these three actors are committed enough to sell the story-that-we-know-is-fiction. Taylor-Johnson is the best he’s ever been, suited to the role of a despicable villain rather than the handsome heroes he’s been miscast as for years. When we return, finally, to the Adams-based reality, we’re merely reminded how dull it was to begin with. Abel Korzeniowski’s grandiose score and Seamus McGarvey’s rich cinematography contribute to some vaguely Hitchcockian vibes, but these are overrun by the mediocrity of the script.
The end of the film is meaningless, a terrible cop-out. Nocturnal Animals is distracting, but as a piece of art has genuinely no reason to exist. Just like the novel within the film. Deliberate?