Nocturnal Animals

Nocturnal Animals ★★★½

Moving from off-putting to intriguing and back again in the span of its running time, Tom Ford's "Nocturnal Animals" can be an intriguing head-scratcher. A drama about relationships, literature, and how one informs the other, Ford's film can not, ultimately, bear out the elements that push the work in its most intriguing directions.

Focusing on Amy Adams' art maven, the film revolves around the recounting of a relationship she had with a novelist who has presented her with his latest work. She reads it, and, as the novel unfolds in her mind, her relationship with the man is reconstructed through metaphors writ large through a violent and sad tale.

The narrative and its story-within-a-story construction are intriguing. Its tonal and stylistic shifts, however, batter the audience, never allowing the viewer to find steady cinematic ground. The point of the novel, a deconstruction of the author's attitudes, actions, and reputation, is clear, but the living metaphor it presents is never resolved. Again, through bouts of sharp tension and heady quiet, the audience is left waiting.

The production is pointedly artful and sleek, deftly melding pretentiousness with grit. Ford reflects his characters through color and visual energy, though, at times, the artifice of it all overwhelms. Perhaps, that is the point. The cast is efficient and inviting, with Adams, Michael Shannon, and Jake Gyllenhaal offering powerful portrayals.

"Nocturnal Animals" is compelling, sometimes stunning, but the experience feels empty in the end. Again, that may be Ford's point, making suggestions about the work's purpose through subtraction, omission, and allowing the viewer to judge without being led. While that may be intellectually invigorating in principle, it undercuts the film's potentially visceral and emotional power.

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