Movie Review: 'Nocturnal Animals'
The first few shots of Nocturnal Animals—I’m not going to tell you what they are—made me think we were in for a really grimy trash-fest, on the level of a much more serious version of John Waters. And this excited me. I love good trash.
But, no such luck.
Nocturnal Animals is interested in being two things—high-minded and difficult. It succeeds at one of those.
We’re given Amy Adams, a disaffected art gallery owner, unhappily married to the appropriately gorgeous and too-highly driven Armie Hammer. One weekend while Hammer is away on a “business” trip, Adams receives a manuscript in the mail, a novel written by her ex-husband, whom she hasn’t seen for nearly 20 years.
We learn, eventually, that this ex-husband is Jake Gyllenhaal, that he once wanted to be a writer, and that Adams betrayed and left him, in part because she saw no future in his dream. This is revealed as we jump back and forth between Adams’ constantly furrowed brow and an enactment of the story contained in Gyllenhaal’s novel, which is a massively disturbing tale of violence and revenge that obliquely represents Adams’ betrayal using the most extreme metaphors.
And that’s what we get, these parallel stories of pain. The acting is uniformly excellent—Michael Shannon continues to prove he’s a national treasure as a morally ambiguous police lieutenant, Gyllenhaal emotes as well as he has in a decade, and Adams is never not good, even if she’s given almost nothing to do.
All this, and still, what do we have, by the end? We’re taken on a thoroughly unpleasant journey to learn… what? That revenge is, at best, an act that ruins everyone involved? We’ve seen that countless times before. Is it that our lives never turn out the way we expect? Anyone who’s lived for even a moderate amount of time already knows this. No, what we’ve learned is that ugly is not an adequate substitute for serious. Your movie is not important simply because it makes us feel bad in an impressive way. In fact, you’re likely better off just making great trash.