Nocturnal Animals (USA, 2016)

Directed by: Tom Ford. I wasn’t familiar with Tom Ford, either from the fashion world or from his first film, A Single Man, which I have yet to see. This one jumped out at me simply on its own merits, from a trailer I saw. It looked like it would be a moody, dark, suspense thriller, about a novelist who writes a novel incriminating something really dark and personal in a woman’s past, and it stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal. That’s a pretty good movie on paper—why not? And I don’t usually give spoiler alerts because I think they’re implied, but I want to talk about the ending here. Overall, I think that this was kind of a dumb movie in smart movie clothing, but it had such a weird, dreamy quality to it, that I still remember it fondly and generally liked watching it. It’s an extremely dark movie, darker even than the last movie I saw, Green Room, which is an outright horror, because of the way this movie presents the sense of being helpless to the senseless whims of violent people, and the existential threat that there is no justice in this godless universe. In a way, what this movie presents is much more horrible, because in a horror movie, say Halloween, the grotesque nature of the monster is so outsized that, even if the monster wins, in a twisted way, that can be a victory, because the horror movie contains its own universe where bad things are good things, or at least where an act of evil can count as a resolution. (That being said, I know that most of the time, there’s at least one good guy to survive to the next movie.) But in this movie, you have the threat of evil, very grounded human evil, senselessly acting out and threatening to get away, it’s up to us with our human flaws to enact our own precarious justice, and that justice is never assured. Even, at the end, when the bad guy is defeated, it’s one of those great thrillers, like in a great Hitchcock movie, where the resolution of the tension doesn’t actually resolve anything, everything is still broken, because we know that evil exists in this world, and that evil has already broken our lives and changed us, altered our landscape inescapably, so that even if we win, we lose. This is, to me, what happens in this movie. Except—that none of it really “happens”, it just happens in the novel that Jake Gyllenhaal wrote to haunt his ex, Amy Adams. And that whole story, about their relationship rising and falling, and this horrendous act of betrayal that prompts this dark and sinister novel, that entire story, ostensibly what the movie is “really about”, that whole thing is one of the most disappointing things I’ve seen in a movie, and it cheapens the effect of the other stuff. The big secret, the enormous betrayal, is that Amy Adams fell out of love with Jake the sadsack failed novelist, fell in love with handsome Armie Hammer, and right around this time, found out she was pregnant and terminated the pregnancy. And maybe I’m different from most of the audience, but to me the idea that this would be a tremendous act of betrayal, and frankly, that this situation would be worth the whole previous story, the extreme existential darkness of the novel story, is totally lame to me, and it demonstrates something really immature, masculinist, and small-minded. Amy Adams’ character didn’t love Jake Gyllenhaal anymore—it happens. We’re grownups. Get on with your life. He was an aimless loser guy, and after several years of hanging on there, she found someone she loved more. But because the movie is made by a man, and a particularly immature, masculinist man, the movie actually identifies with and validates Jake’s sadsack loser writer character more than the ostensible lead, Amy Adams, who it turns out is really a minor character in her own movie. This movie reads to me like a Men’s Rights Activist movie, which is all the more disturbing when you consider that it came from some sophisticated, effete, high society New York art darling like Tom Ford, who I’m sure considers himself a real auteur. Frankly, this reminds me of Zero Dark Thirty, ostensibly a mature, ambiguous exploration of modern geopolitics by a group of self-described Hollywood liberals, but which actually amounts to a ham-fisted propaganda piece demonstrating the necessity of torture in order to protect our peaceful Western society from the faceless barbarism of Islamic terrorists. So the short version of my review is a Jay Sherman review: It stinks!

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