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Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford‘s sophomore directorial effort, arrived in North America on Friday, a week after its world premiere at the Venice Film Festival, and seven years after his astonishing debut A Single Man. The new film, like the older one, is aesthetically appealing and features some top-notch performances — especially Oscar nominee Michael Shannon‘s colorful supporting turn as a West Texas lawman — but it also is opaque,in terms of what it’s trying to say and plays like the sort of genre film one might stumble upon on Cinemax, which will make it a tough sell to the Academy.
The drama, which Ford adapted from Austin Wright‘s novel Tony and Susan, starts off bizarrely — with a prolonged sequence of obese nude women dancing in what turns out to be an art gallery — and never really regains its footing. It centers around the art gallery’s owner, a wealthy but depressed woman, played by Oscar nominee Amy Adams, and a long-ago story recounted in a manuscript she receives from her ex-husband, played by Oscar nominee Jake Gyllenhaal. It then cuts back-and-forth between the two stories. Shannon, the film’s only truly likable character, factors in to the latter account.
Not all films that resonate with the Academy are about appealing or sympathetic people — 1972’s Deliverance, from which Nocturnal Animals perhaps borrows a few elements, is an example of one film whose characters weren’t sympathetic, but it still wound up with a best picture Oscar nom. However, when a film does overcome that sort of obstacle, it is usually easily decipherable. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for Nocturnal Animals, which Focus will release Nov. 23.
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