Review: ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is Uneven and Stodgy

Fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford knows how to grab our attention, I’ll give him that. His sophomore directorial effort, Nocturnal Animals, opens with what is probably the most dazzling curtain-raiser of the year: a slow-mo procession of flesh and glitter that plays like a provocative rebuke of the way the opening credits of the James Bond franchise have traditionally converted women’s bodies into stylised, seductive props. Unfortunately the bulk of the film, an adaptation of Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, fails to live up to the promise of this temporary entrancement.

Make no mistake, Ford continues to exhibit the touch of a consummate stylist. Nocturnal Animals drips with the same kind of lush, florid, Almodovarian atmosphere of his debut A Single Man. And there are a few standout moments along the way. The initial story-within-a-story, where a family is terrorised on a stretch of desert road by a trio of thuggish bros, is an impressively sustained sequence of nerve-rattling terror. As always, Michael Shannon is reason enough to stick with mediocre films, and his mustachioed Texas cop here is a delightfully flinty scene-stealer who animates proceedings whenever the going gets too turgid.

But ultimately this stew of noir campiness — part meta brain-teaser, part pulp revenge thriller — is uneven and stodgy, hewing closer to the embarrassing pastiche of Atom Egoyan’s Where the Truth Lies than the exquisite smoke-and-mirrors of Brian De Palma’s Femme Fatale. It’s a bad sign when not even the generally reliable Amy Adams convinces, perhaps highlighting the trickiness of crafting worthwhile cinema out of a frosty, wealthy art gallerist gasping through a manuscript.

‘Nocturnal Animals’ Movie Times