New Mankiewicz or Old Hitchcock? Tom Ford’s Labels

 DATELINE:  Sweet Revenge

nocturnal animals

If you’re wondering whom director Tom Ford is emulating after his second movie called Nocturnal Animals, we may have it figured out.

It’s always hard to follow up a masterpiece like A Single Man as your first movie.

Director Tom Ford has tackled one of those literary-type stories, loaded with flashbacks. It also has a parallel story in which writer Jake Gyllenhaal plays the hero of his own novel and the writer. Unfortunately, the story is a bad B-melodrama, not great art, as his ex-wife in the movie believes.

The lead actors deserve credit for managing to play their characters at age 20ish and at age 40ish. The problem is subtle when you are in a flashback to Gyllenhaal’s novel or in the alleged real life story of his ex and her problems—or what passes for real life among artistes.

Indeed, one character (Michael Sheen) notes how the peculiar lifestyle of the rich and famous is far removed from your traditional movie audience. The problem of artists may not be of much interest to those looking for a good murder mystery or a dynamic suspense drama. Gone Girl succeeded more than this one.

Nocturnal Animals, like Ford’s first, echoes the Hitchcockian elements of a suspense drama, but the overlay of literary tale is strictly from the stable of another great director, Joe Mankiewicz.

The writer’s ex-wife, Susan (Amy Adams), may think he’s reached into her great world of the Glitterati in the Los Angeles art scene. But the story-within-story reads like Hot Rods from Hell starring Dana Andrews—a bad movie from 1967. It’s anything but the moving art his ex-wife sees.

Ford’s penchant to mimic Joseph Mankiewicz as a director may be more accurate than his attempt to be Hitchcock. Mankiewicz often challenged viewers with an overlay of complex narrative, though he made some masterpieces like All About Eve and The Barefoot Contessa to stand forever as highwater marks.

Tom Ford has not made a masterpiece this time with his nocturnal shenanigans. It is intelligent, complex, and not standard fare. The movie requires concentration, and the payoff is simply not there.

Nocturnal Animals may find a niche in Ford’s career as years come to pass. We may even recognize it as something special. However, as a second film, it is decidedly secondary.