In Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals there’s a ‘real world’ story of art gallery owner Susan Morrow (played by Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). The story from his manuscript gives us the ‘novel’ story which in many respects becomes the main narrative drive of the movie.
The ‘real world’ story of Susan’s life with her rich, thrusting but deceptive and unfaithful second husband along with her growing disillusionment with her privileged and ultimately sterile social life of parties and gallery openings, is itself more than worthy of a full-length character study.
As scriptwriter and adaptor of the original novel on which the film is based, Ford’s intent is to show the reaction of the novel narrative on Susan, the profound effect it has upon her life and her thinking. I feel the real world story takes over the film and the narrative, and weighs too heavily on the overall narrative.
Tom Ford of all people would have been perfectly placed to give us a brutal critique of the urban West Coast art and fashionista set. There are well delineated outlines of this critique in the real world story – the emptiness and ‘total junk’ feelings she has for her latest, grotesque modern art exhibit and for the spoiled superficiality of this rich and privileged class of which she is part.
Amy Adams carries all this off as only she can. Expressing her thoughts and concealed emotions with just a look. But the novel manuscript which gives her a paper cut as she opens it, showing how books can cause real physical harm, has too much weight for the overall story and drags the narrative down.
The problem is that the novel’s story of a car-jacking in West Texas which leads to terrifying and brutal consequences, is little more than artfully executed pulp fiction. The characters don’t engage us because they’re crudely drawn and invented, despite the dark and menacing tone. Jake Gyllenhaal’s character is weak. So too are the decisions he makes in the novel.
This is still a very well made and beautifully executed film with cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, but might have been even better and better suited to Amy Adams’s acting skills and talents if more focus had been on the character study and less placed on the novel.
Nocturnal Animals could have been an even more searing exposure of her character’s fears and psychological flaws. It could have been a darker and even deeper exposure of the depths of human frailty and self-deception.