The fashion designer Tom Ford—he of the aesthetic fixation with the human buttocks—knows how to stage beautiful (and ugly) people, things, and ideas. In Nocturnal Animals (2016) he aims to capture the unpleasant and painful. Writing—the frame of any movie—in this case is more wooden than the dazzle of the shiny gold and sterling paint that covers it would have you believe. He is better at filmmaking than he has any right to be. Ford seems to be communicating that he is not an artist. If he is not, then he is a great imitator.
Once again this year, Adams is outstanding here both in the present when her character is aged, sleepless, and sardonic and when she plays young and vibrant—more reminiscent of her earlier roles. Gyllenhaal has become a fine character actor; while here he plays more the ideas of both idealism in one case and weakness in the other, rather than an actual human. Shannon is a steady presence, per usual, even though his characters are usually anything but. Taylor-Johnson is the show pony, dissolving into a vile character and sporting yet another impeccable mustache.
This is a story about art and social class. Yes, both well-trod territory. The bonus add-ons are themes of human weakness and emotional frailty. The question that remains is: are we sick of seeing slick presentations of miserably unhappy rich and beautiful people in ultra-modern glass houses? Still, though, there is a scene near the end of the syncopated breathing of a man’s ex-lover and his imagined self in fractured screen cuts that is both novel and affecting.