**1/2 (out of four)
DIRECTED BY Tom Ford
STARS Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal
- Jake Gyllenhaal in Nocturnal Animals (Photo: Focus)
Tom Ford, the fabulously successful fashion designer who made a name for himself at Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent before launching his own label, first tried his hand at filmmaking with 2009's A Single Man, an art-house effort for which he ambitiously served as writer (adapting Christopher Isherwood's novel), director and producer. A stylish and sympathetic look at a gay college professor coping with the death of his partner, the film earned strong reviews as well as a Best Actor Oscar nomination for lead Colin Firth.
Ford's sophomore effort, Nocturnal Animals, matches his first picture in terms of its visual vibrancy and solid performances, but it has opted to replace its beating heart with a leaden paperweight. It's also a rudderless affair, merging two tales that never properly link up. In one, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), unhappily married to a womanizing lout (Armie Hammer), receives a manuscript in the mail from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film's other narrative thread is the story that Susan reads, a harrowing tale about a family (Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber) terrorized by vicious rednecks while stranded in the middle of Nowhere, Texas.
The story-within-a-story is cruel rather than clever, with Ford (working from Austin Wright's novel) more interested in tastefully (tastelessly?) laying out nude corpses than in providing anything more substantial than a threadbare version of Death Wish. What substantially elevates this portion is Michael Shannon, who's typically off-kilter and intense as a detective who wants to see justice done by any means necessary. The other narrative largely wastes Adams' formidable talents but nevertheless maintains interest with its look at a woman reflecting on the disintegration of her previous marriage via flashbacks and coping with the roiling emotions regarding the people in her life. Unfortunately, this ends in calculated ambiguity that plays more like airless affectedness.