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Brent Northup

Nocturnal Animals

At the Myrna Loy


Grade: B-

Amy Adams has been the enchanted princess for many years, and now the crown’s in reach.

This year, Adams has turned in two memorable performances in “Arrival” and “Nocturnal Animals.” She could, conceivably, be nominated for Oscars for either or both.

In “Arrival” Adams was the sensitive and cerebral academic chatting with aliens.

Now in “Nocturnal” Adams turns dark in a disturbing drama about Susan, curator of an art gallery, whose wrong turns in life have left her lonely and confused.

Susan left Edward, who dared to dream of being a writer rather than to earn money in “conventional” ways. Susan next married Hutton, a successful businessman -- who cheated on her from the start.

In retrospect, Susan realizes her mistake. She gave up love for money, and lost happiness.

One day her ex sends her a manuscript of his latest book -- clearly a vengeful I-told-you-so gift as his career takes off. In the book, characters that seem modeled after Edward and Susan set out on a fatal road trip in which the mother and her daughter are murdered.

The film takes long detours inside that book, a movie within a movie. As Susan sits reading, the film noir thriller comes alive on screen.

Despite the disturbing omen posed by the book’s outcome, Susan decides to reach out to Edward -- the ex who graphically depicted “her” gruesome murder in his book.

Hey, Susan, his book might hold a clue that this won’t end well.

Adams’ performance is deep and textured, as she captures a woman who prepares to make yet another mistake in a life littered with bad choices.

Jake Gyllenhaal is also convincing as the writer who is more bitter than forgiving -- although he disguises his motives well at times. Gyllenhaal also plays the husband in the “book movie,” clarifying the novel’s vengeful purpose.

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Michael Shannon, who plays a cop investigating the murder in Edward’s book, delivers perhaps the best performance in the film. Laura Linney is deliciously evil as an intrusive mom giving her daughter bad advice.

While the acting in “Nocturnal Animals” is exceptional, the film itself is quite convoluted. Writer/director Tom Ford seems to be channeling his inner David Lynch as he mixes dreams with reality, replete with graphic sexual imagery.

But whereas Lynch turned such surreal experiments into art, Ford’s film feels derivative -- he’s imitating Lynch from the outside, while leaving the core muddled.

“Nocturnal Animals” is really two films -- a marital drama and a film noir murder thriller. For me, they competed against one another rather than blending into a transfixing whole.

Oscar fans -- and connoisseurs of experimental cinema -- will want to see “Nocturnal” because it may earn multiple nominations. However, I suspect many viewers will be come away disappointed/confused -- and some may be shocked or offended.

In fact, the first three minutes could chase away modest moviegoers: a live “concept art” exhibit pays tribute to large Rubenesque naked women dancing provocatively in cheerleader outfits.

Clearly, Ford intended to get our attention, as Lynch always does. But in Ford’s hands, the shock seems gratuitous, and left me cold.

By contrast, David Lynch, the master of the surreal, always makes the outrageous seem compelling.

Nevertheless, I was never bored as Tom Ford took risks in the name of art. Kudos for that.


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