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Thursday
Nov172016

America, The Damned Thing

by Jason Adams

Nocturnal Animals is a strange little beast. I find myself tempted to call it the "Gay Straw Dogs" (gay in spirit if not in character) but that's not quite right - it is very much its own fascinating thing; it is very much the work of one man, one artist, grappling with his own art and the idea of himself as an Artist. And our idea in turn of him as an Artist. So much so that there's a discussion of Art and the Artist both framed by the film's structure - that of a "reality" where Amy Adams is reading a book and then a "fiction" inside the book itself - and by the film itself; that is to say that two characters actually sit down and have a conversation about what it means to be an Artist, to be critiqued, and to put one's self out into the world for that sort of judgement, bare-assed and vulnerable.

I think the most telling bits in the film comes early...

at a très chic dinner party the fabulous hosts (played by a preening be-lavendered Michael Sheen and by Andrea Riseborough in "Julianne Moore in A Single Man" drag) get to talking about the real world - you know, out there, not here - and Sheen argues how fortunate they have it in their bubble. Meanwhile Riseborough argues that "it's all relative" - no matter how high up and sealed off you are you're still dealing with the same bullshit, the same emotions and human frailties.

I do wonder if the film played differently before the election than it does now, after - it is a hard, cynical and often grotesque film (Amy Adams keeps arguing that she's too cynical for real love) and I saw a lot of push-back against those aspects of it earlier this year, including by our host Nathaniel in his review from TIFF -- I get those opening credits are button-pushing, but I go to a lot of galleries and pay a lot of attention to the high-dollar art-world and Ford ain't saying anything about the art-world that the art-world isn't eager to say about itself. The crisp clean primal screams; the pristine fetishization of violence and rage... it is something else. But watching it this week, with its rasslin' between high and low culture, between folks in their rural and urban bubbles, between "reality" and reality... well, it struck a nerve.

Of course low culture, the "reality" that Michael Sheen's gay socialite is happy to have escaped, is being painted by Tom Ford here, so for all its ugliness it's sexy and art-directed as fuck; its good ol' boy hillbillies (led by Aaron Johnson and all twelve thousand of his abdominal muscles) are straight off a redneck gay-porn set, spit-licking their lips while their wild cobalt-blue eyeballs bug with dangerous erotic abandon under a sea of night stars and violin strings.

I point all this out not because I just want to talk about the long, long scene with Aaron Johnson buck naked in broad daylight sitting on his porch toilet throne for all the world to see (but seriously, this scene goes on and on and on so much longer than you anticipate only to end with a nasty little jab at anybody attempting to eroticize the moment) but because for all of my continued skepticism of Tom Ford, Film-maker (yes even after the terrific A Single Man) there is a voice inside this material, rooting out ideas and danger. It never entirely coheres like ASM did - some saw that film as an airless exercise in beauty but I found it more moving than that; more of an elegy for beauty - but it probably should'nt, given the ugliness that Ford's taking stabs at within himself and his high society with this film.

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Reader Comments (9)

You're sweet but there's no voice here. Those rednecks and scenes of gruesome violence are so completely hollow and artificial - artificial not in a pulpy, aestheticised sense but in a 'this person is trying to win awards and do something visceral but he has only ever seen poor people on TV' sense (and also 'gay man casting with his dick' sense).

That and Ford seems to be entirely unaware that his story blithely celebrates misogyny.

November 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

How was the cast?

November 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commenter@goran

I love Amy with the fire of a thousand suns but I've never seen her so suffocated by a role. She's not bad, she's fine - but no more than that. Ford does her no favours with the way he frames and edits her. And the script more or less humiliates her repeatedly and in the same exact way.

Gyllenhall ranges from uneven-to-terrible. He's clearly acting with his mind on the Oscar clip-reel. There's one okay clip in there. And about three Nicolas-Cage-montage embarrassing ones. Again though, I blame Ford, because we all know Jake's amazing.

Michael Shannon is Michael Shannon. Very much playing a Role. I don't get the hype but he's probably best in show by default.

Taylor-Johnson goes full-Method. He's also never met a redneck in his life. He's razzie-worthy.

November 17, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Apparently Ford cast Laura Linney as Amy Adams's character's mother (in a 20-year-in-the-past flashback, so the small age gap is not as outrageous as it seems) by googling 'best American actresses'. I wonder why he didn't cast Julianne Moore in that little role, with her being a friend and previous collaborator and have the iconic redhead that plays a big easthetic role in the story-within-a-within-story narrative and parallels.

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterCarlos

He had to *google* Laura Linney?

Ugh. This man is officially my enemy in life.

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered Commentergoran

Goran - He knew who Laura Linney was -- he googled the phrase "best American actresses" to shake up his thinking and see some names he hadn't been thinking of

I really can't argue with people who dislike this movie; I figured that out while reading negative reviews yesterday. I just hate thinking about movies in terms like is it "good" or is it "bad" - I get way too much enjoyment from "bad" things in life. I'd rather judge something on whether it's interesting or not, and whether I feel as if the film-maker is expressing something personal and complicated, and all of those things I felt were true with NA.

Yes some of the acting is erratic and over-the-top and clashes with other performances, but god I was never bored watching this, and I think there's purpose and interest to be drilled out of those moments of tension.

I would rather watch Nocturnal Animals again, with its bizarre and often off-putting but distinctive personality, than some bland Oscar-built contraption, is my point.

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJason

I thought it was great, a complex and rewarding look at emotional violence and the roll of art in intensifying or healing those wounds. I can't really blame people who don't like it either, but an ugly movie - and this is an ugly movie - can be invaluable, and this is something people need to see and confront.

November 18, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterRoark

You know sometimes you listen to an album, and you really listen to the lyrics to try and understand the meaning of what it's all about.
And sometimes you just listen to a pop album and just enjoy the album without thinking about the actual lyrics.

This film I just enjoyed without listening to the lyrics.

November 21, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterJB

I saw it yesterday and I am absolutely in love with it. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time. ..and you're right, post-election, this film felt haunting and visceral.

Amy Adams carries the movie with Shannon and a Johnson. Keeping it real, I thought Jake was terrible. Garrett Hedlund would've been a better choice.

November 25, 2016 | Unregistered CommenterBia

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