Sunday, 11 September 2016

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - TIFF 2016 - Arty Vehicle Runs On Empty

MICHAEL SHANNON: Great Actor in search
of a Great Movie (or even good one).

Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Dir. Tom Ford
Nvl. Austin Wright
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson,
Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Karl Glusman

Review By Greg Klymkiw

There's a scene in Tom (A Single Man) Ford's mostly dreadful Nocturnal Animals when Texas cop Sam Andes (Michael Shannon) steps out of his car onto the dusty, lonely flatlands which harbour a grisly crime. As his foot hits the dry earth, he begins to hack so violently that each cough sounds like the burst of gunfire from a .44 Magnum. Every wheeze is a death rattle. We fear for him, as does his companion who inquires into his well being once the horrendously desiccated croup-eruption draws to a close. Andes takes a deep breath and nonchalantly replies, "Yeah, I'm okay." Shannon's delivery is so perfectly timed that we let out a healthy belly laugh.

He's ready for action. The grisly crime scene awaits.

That we care so much for this character's well being is certainly a testament to Michael Shannon (no matter what film he's in). It's impossible to take one's eyes off the guy. Even when he's stuck in a dog's breakfast of a movie, his mere presence is usually enough to keep us watching. The broad strokes of the character he plays, a soon-to-retire homicide dick dying of lung cancer, who takes the law into his own hands with a pair of rapist-killers, certainly provides enough material for Shannon to deliver an astonishing performance.

Alas, he is ultimately a great actor in search of a good movie.

The very ubiquitous and extremely dour Amy Adams.

Nocturnal Animals is based on a novel by Austin Wright called "Tony and Susan". Though I have not read the novel, I'm going to go out on a limb here and suggest that Nocturnal Animals is a better title - at least for the movie. The title, in addition to Michael Shannon, is the only good thing about Tom Ford's picture. It's probably one of the worst indie arthouse movies I've seen in quite some time. It suffers from an accent on preciously composed shots of people looking dour and a screenplay ("written" by Ford) that vomits up a whole whack of on-point dialogue and provides a clunky, almost literary structure (purporting to be cinematic).

In a nutshell, the movie forces us to meander amongst three different through-lines.

First of all, we get the story of a gallery owner (the ubiquitous Amy Adams) and her cheating husband (Armie Hammer), both of whom are facing potential financial ruin. As we suffer through all of this, we learn that wifey was once romantically involved with a penniless academic (Jake Gyllenhaal) who had dreams of being a great novelist.

The second through-line delivers flashbacks to this doomed romance and we learn that Ubiquitous Amy dumped the lad for financial stability, doubting her beau's ability to ever be a novelist. The third, and most problematic through-line is when Amy gets a manuscript of her former love's novel (which is about to be published) and the movie rubs our noses in fictionalized versions of both characters in a tale of rape, murder and revenge.

Now if any of this had been infused with a trashy, pulpy sense of fun, and/or even some Douglas Sirk-like melodrama (to match the movie's visuals), then perhaps it might have been palatable. Unfortunately, director Ford drags us through a dreary, humourless and pretentious mess that simply tries one's patience.

Jake Gyllenhaal looking dour: Regrets, he has a few.

Other than Shannon's character, there really isn't a single entity in this entire movie that feels remotely real, let alone worth spending any time with when the lights go down. Wifey Amy Adams is a total sourball from beginning to end and one can't really blame Hubby Hammer for grabbing a bit on the side.

It's also no wonder her gallery is suffering financially. The film opens with a series of arty-farty slo-mo shots of whorishly dolled-up BBWs, bumping and grinding with dour abandon (of course, they wouldn't be having any fun in a movie like this). Eventually they are turned into living still-lives on a variety of IKEA slabs for the edification of a whole whack o' rich knobs who are guzzling free booze and nibbling upon cheese in Amy's gallery.

Eventually I kept thinking - no wonder she's going broke. Does she have to pay all these porkers to prostrate themselves in her tony whorehouse of capital crimes against fine art - every fucking day?

This, at least, is a pretty good question. God knows we don't really have too many others whilst we suffer through horrendous dialogue like:

"What right do I have to not be happy? I have everything. I feel ungrateful not to be happy." This, followed by this dopey response: "You are just awfully hard on yourself."

"You and your mother both have the same kind of sadness in your eyes."

Or how about this scintillating exchange?

UBIQUITOUS AMY: "We are not right for each other."

DOUR JAKE: "We are perfect for each other."

UBIQUITOUS AMY: "No, we are not perfect for each other, though we might have been perfect for each other if we didn't live in the real world. But I live in the real world and I need a life that is more structured. I want to be the person that you want me to be, but I just can't."

Or, how's about this spitfire?

"I'm not scared, I'm unhappy. I'm just really really unhappy."

Adding to the mix of crappy dialogue, we're also forced to put up with a whole passel of portent during a litany of irony like:

When Ubiquitous Amy gets a paper cut whilst opening Dour Jake's manuscript.

When Dour Jake showers in the "novel" and Ubiquitous Amy showers in "real life".

When Ford delivers a shot of the raped/murdered mother and daughter of the "novel" lying together nude and pathetically juxtaposes it with a "real life" shot Amy's daughter lying nude with her lover.

It never seems to end.

The hits just keep coming.

Worst of all, though, are the final moments in which Ubiquitous Amy dolls up for a meeting with Dour Jake to talk about his novel and catch up on old times. She ends up wearing a hideous green dress which resembles the dress Scarlet O'Hara made out of the curtains of Tara in Gone With the Wind. Rhett Butler certainly saw through Scarlet's ruse. We wonder if Dour Jake will have a similar response. Alas, we never find out. Nocturnal Animals predictably ends with Ubiquitous Amy being stood up.

This all seems thoroughly appropriate. The whole movie deserves to be stood up.

THE FILM CORNER RATING: *½ One-and-a-half-stars
Nocturnal Animals is a TIFF 2016 Special Presentation and is a Focus Features and Universal Pictures Canada release.