For his 2009 debut A Single Man, fashion designer-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford had his share of detractors with a film labeled as “style over substance”. While that’s an unfair complaint in my estimation considering how it hums to the rhythms of Colin Firth’s soulful performance and its moments of sharp (yes, stylized) insight, his follow-up Nocturnal Animals doesn’t meet that superficial low bar. This time, the glossy veneer can’t distract from the blank experience of the film of dual narratives: frosty art maven Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receiving a manuscript from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the grimy, violent novel itself (with Gyllenhaal playing its lead).
The two stories are tied together in clunky ways, but the separate parts themselves are vacuously rendered enough to make Animals rarely more than tedious. Flipping back and forth between Morrow’s reflections on her marriage and the subpar book she reads, the film aimlessly flirts with genre and mood without goals or singular vision – the potboiler portion feeling particularly disengaged. The film throws (or rolls, or shrugs) quite a bit at the audience without any foresight on how to make it stick.