Glossy Surface, Little Depth:
You know, the more I think about this film, the more I dislike it. Not hate. That would be too strong for something this well made and acted.
Indifferent to it, maybe? Yeah, that sounds a bit more like it.
I’m a little late in getting around to seeing it, but I’m amused by the perfect timing of its release in the same week that Donald Trump snatched the American Presidency right out of the claws of the ghastly Hillary Clinton. You see, while the Donald was getting his hands dirty in some really depressed American states and pushing the right buttons, Clinton the Con was swanning around, getting endorsed by a crowd of brain-dead celebrities who think that the sun shines out of their pampered assholes.
Whilst Trump was listening to the problems of people at the end of their tether in some of the most depressed states in the country, the female half of the Clinton Crime Organisation was being serenaded at a fundraiser by Mr. Beyoncé himself – the ludicrous Jay-Z — singing ‘Jigga Ma Nigga’. (And Trump is supposed to be the racist one – of course he must be; he’s white.)
And much to the disgust of preening, self-important twats like Miley Cyrus the fact that they were endorsing Hillary to their puke-inducing social media followers turned out not to mean a damned thing in the end.
What a blistering ego-deflate for the Reality TV generation: no one gave a toss what they thought. Even better, their whining and bubbling possibly swung it the other way. Har-de-har-har-har.
Director Tom Ford’s Nocturnal Animals – which he adapted himself from Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan – takes place in that same world of the super-rich, where every self-obsessed one of them is completely wrapped up in…what else, themselves. They’re the kind of pretentious, loathsome creeps who, if they ever actually had a non-solipsistic thought accidentally float through their addled brainpans, would have definitely endorsed the Arkansas Mafia Moll. Without having a clue what her policies were in the slightest.
I Don’t Know Art, But I Know What I Loath
The film opens on one of those pretentious ‘Art’ events that morons with too much time and waaay too much money attend, in order to be seen and to attempt (in vain) to look intelligent by stroking their chins and muttering:
“Ah, yes; images of obscenely, grossly, hideously fat women. Mountains of flesh quaking in slo-mo; enormous veined breasts bouncing saggily. The artist is obviously making a comment on the post-modernist view of beauty being blah blah blah”.
A load of bollox. This kind of sub-Tate rubbish is there solely to extract the money from toerags like what’s-his-name Saatchi, when he’s not grabbing women by the throat. It has about as much social value as he has.
What’s more, I’m pretty sure the director knows this, because later on we see a tasteful exhibit of a dead cow shot through with arrows – obviously a dig at that cynical, talentless shithead, Damien Hirst.
The ‘event’ has been organised by gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams, brilliant once again) and she’s a bit put out that far-too-handsome husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) hasn’t bothered to show up. Yeah, one look at him and wouldn’t you know that he would have a Dynasty-type name like Hutton.
Of course, he’s all show and no substance because he’s on his uppers and just putting a face on things, like half of the NAMA-ed and bailed-out crooks ‘businessmen’ I see in Ireland every time I stick my head out the door.
Don’t worry about that little detail, though; like a lot of other plot points in Nocturnal Animals it is destined either to disappear up its own ass or go precisely nowhere.
In any case, we assume that Susan is miffed at the no-show but to be honest it’s a bit hard to tell with this one. She keeps herself wrapped so tight and perfect that behind that cool façade she could be having a brain embolism, wetting herself or experiencing multiple orgasms for all we know.
When the penny finally drops and she does realise that Hutton is playing ‘bury-the-sausage’ away from home, she tells him to make sure to get some sleep because he’s had a long flight. (And one gawk at the lady he’s in the elevator with tells you that sleep is the last thing this fella is going to be getting.)
Maybe Susan isn’t too concerned, because her first husband of twenty years ago, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) has finally written his long-promised book and sent the manuscript to her, despite the fact that she had broken the relationship off in a most cruel and nasty manner.
The book is called Nocturnal Animals – apparently an affectionate nickname he had for her – and it’s dedicated to the lady herself.
A Down-Home Texas Welcome, Y’All!
So she gets herself settled down in her coldly-perfect home and shows that the fancy blender they’re bound to have in the kitchen is definitely being used to at the very least make gallons of carrot-juice, because Susan very impressively proceeds to read in the dark, only dropping the manuscript with an enormous *!BANG!* occasionally, in case the audience has dozed off.
And actually, that’s a bit unfair, because the half-hour that deals with the first chapters of the novel are absolutely spell-binding. I mean, they are terrifying; and I doubt that any man could sit through this without wondering how he would have handled the situation that Tony finds himself in, when he is forced off the road and has to watch as his wife and daughter are brutally abducted. It is nail-biting, awful stuff and tense to the point where the viewer simply wants it all to end.
Put it this way: I doubt that the filmmakers got much help from the West Texas Tourist Board.
In the novel, Tony seems to be a nice guy; but for some reason the good Lord has him on His Holy Shit List BIG TIME, because the cop who gets put on his case is none other than Michael Shannon – and as if he’s not scary-enough looking, he’s also behaving inexplicably weird and menacing.
Plus, when he tells poor old Tony the fate of his family it’s pretty obvious that he skipped the part of his training that dealt with Sensitivity Towards the Victims of Crime.
Or maybe they just don’t go in for that in West Texas.
Look, I get it that as Susan sits there in pitch darkness reading through Edward’s manuscript with her night vision she is projecting onto it from their old relationship. I get that, honest.
I don’t get why she sees Edward as Tony (Gyllenhaal does both roles) when she doesn’t see herself as the wife. I don’t really get why the hairstyles are similar, although I suppose it’s something to do with how we read novels.
And then again, I wasn’t even entirely sure how much she actually was reading, since she stares into space half the time (amusingly enough, with the lights on when she doesn’t need them).
Has it to do with a conversation near the beginning, when a dinner guest tells her how blessed they are not to live in the real world? Well, maybe. It’s the kind of movie where you get the feeling that everything means something. (You also get the feeling that you shouldn’t be calling it anything as vulgar as a movie.)
Yet to me the crucial sequence is during the single appearance of Laura Linney as Susan’s socialite mother. You know the type: looks as if they swan around every ‘name’ party going, with hair that looks as if it’s being held in place by about two cans of spray.
It is a brilliant and telling scene, superbly played and with both actors looking astonishingly similar. Indeed, as it turns out, it is Linney’s character that has the surest grasp on how things work; how her daughter thinks; on reality. It’s not her daughter.
In another film I would have had fun breaking things down, looking at motifs and perhaps enjoying alternative takes on the action; but the truth is that I simply didn’t care enough. The problems of the Rich and Shameless don’t hold much attraction for me at the best of times, but here there wasn’t one character in the ‘real’ story that I could be bothered with; and the events of the ‘novel’ finally became so off-the-fucking-wall that I just began to tune out.
It’s not usually relevant to me, what a director’s background is; but here it has to be noted that Ford is not just a film director. He is also a fashion designer and has worked as a creative director with Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent. He even has his own ‘label’ and I don’t exactly know many filmmakers like that.
The point is that he knows this world; he comes from it; but – although I’m a bit long in the tooth to pull a Holden Caulfield on you – I do find the whole thing very phony and…yes, designed, which makes sense.
It all strikes me as a very polished, glossy surface with nothing beneath it. Man, it is soul-less. And to make it worse, it also seems to me that Ford is trying to have his cake and eat it. As if he’s saying he knows how ridiculous and shallow his world is, but he has an ironic take on it, so bear with him.
Well, I’m sorry but I can’t. Tom Ford knows how to make a movie and he will be worth watching in the future; but Nocturnal Animals wasn’t made for me. It was made so that Tom could bask in the adulation of his friends.
You know, the more I think about this film, the more I think that I hate it.