It's been seven years since renowned fashion designer Tom Ford turned film director with the sleek and stylish A Single Man. Now along comes his long-awaited follow-up, Nocturnal Animals, which is just as handsomely mounted, but this time the pulpiness of the material (the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, which Ford adapted) betrays its hollow core. It's pretty as a picture -- director of photography Seamus McGarvey (Atonement, We Need to Talk About Kevin, Fifty Shades of Grey) makes sure of that -- and about as deep.
The novel's title characters are Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), a character in a novel (called Nocturnal Animals, naturally enough) which the ex-husband of unfulfilled gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) sends her in manuscript form. Once she starts reading it, Ford cuts back and forth between the unfolding story -- of a fender bender on a lonely Texas road that turns tragic -- and Susan's reactions to it, as well as her memories of Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal again), the struggling writer she married for love and eventually left because he wasn't ambitious enough for her. Because the narrative is split into two parts, that means Michael Shannon, who plays the eccentric lawman on Tony's case, never meets Michael Sheen, who plays Susan's best friend's gay husband, which is a lucky break for us because that could have resulted in a rift in the fabric of the universe. Other actors who could have been affected by it include Armie Hammer (who plays Susan's philandering second husband), Isla Fisher (who plays Tony's wife), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (who plays the ringleader of their tormentors), and Laura Linney (who plays Susan's stuck-up mother and knocks her one scene out of the park).
Featuring an ersatz Philip Glass score by Abel Korzeniowski, Nocturnal Animals is ultimately brought down by its two halves' failure to mesh -- or demonstrate that they needed to exist side by side in the first place. If there's a particular reason why Susan becomes so absorbed in Tony's plight, she does a stellar job of keeping it to herself. Or hey, maybe Edward's just that good of a writer. If only she had believed in him and stuck it out the 19 years it took him to prove it.