Nocturnal Animals Review

Posted: October 25, 2016 in 2016 London Film Festival, Drama, Reviews
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Nocturnal AnimalsAfter suffering through a seemingly interminable summer of cinema that offered mediocrity, at best, most weeks, but, more often, a too familiar awfulness of stale, sequeled premises noisily and poorly executed, dedicated film goers have earned an autumn of excellence at the movie theater. We deserve movies like Nocturnal Animals. Tom Ford’s second feature film is everything that was missing from movies this summer. The film is challenging, intelligent, fierce, uncompromising, wrenching, and, most definitely, for adults. And, no, this is not simple Oscar bait material. No one among the A List cast is bravely portraying a disability, nor are we spoon fed a Hollywood interpretation of an important moment in history. Nocturnal Animals is original, in-you-face art.

The plot is deceptively easy to explain. A woman, who finds herself in an unhappy second marriage, receives a manuscript of a novel written by her ex-husband. Viewers are then treated to three intertwined stories brought to the screen: the real time situation for this woman, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), the novel written by her former spouse, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), and a series of flashbacks that reveal the arc of her relationship with Edward. Complicating all interpretations of the relationship between the novel, which Edward has dedicated to Susan, and their past relationship is that Gyllenhaal also portrays Tony Hastings, the protagonist of the novel. We see, in a flashback, Susan criticizing Edward’s writing (he was a writer, but a failed one while they were together) by saying that he should write about something other than himself. Are we to think that the novel, which is extremely violent, is in someway autobiographical or, is it, allegorical, relating back to the relationship? Or is Edward simply seeking a form of revenge known as “writing well without you?”

We watch the events of this “fictional” story unfold as Susan reads them. Are they more fictional to us than what is happening to Susan? Are we more removed from the action, better equipped to handle the awfulness because it’s only a story? For that matter, can we trust Susan’s reminiscences of her previous marriage or is she writing a story in her mind?

Director/screenwriter/producer Tom Ford is a ridiculously talented individual and not just because of the myriad skills on display here. Yes, he is “that” Tom Ford, the former creative director for Gucci and Yves Saint Laurent who also has his own fashion label. The film is beautiful, even when terrible things are shown. One image lingers, and it is power and beautiful and horrible all at the same time. It calls to mind controversies that often surrounded Ford’s use of nude women in advertising campaigns for fashion lines. Without taking a stand on those occurrences, the corresponding moment in Nocturnal Animals is not gratuitous or vulgar, but it is uncomfortable – intentionally so, one imagines.

Ford stands an excellent chance of receiving three Academy Award nominations, for Director, Adapted Screenplay and Best Picture (as producer, he would receive that Oscar), but given that the film is unlikely to take the top prize due to its subject matter, his best chance will probably be in the writing category. Gyllenhaal also seems a sure bet to get his second nomination, and Adams has a chance as well, although it says here that Arrival is a better vehicle for her.

There is so much excellence on display, in front of and behind the camera, that omissions are inevitable. The supporting cast, without exception, is superior. Two bear special mention. Aaron Taylor-Johnson has a terrific turn as a thug named Ray Marcus, who terrorizes the family in the story-within-a-story and continues to haunt the survivors. But the real second tier star is Michael Shannon, who is having a phenomenal year. He’s played the father in Midnight Special, Elvis Presley in Elvis and Nixon, and Detective Bobby Andes in Nocturnal Animals. Andes is the law enforcement officer who investigates the horrific act of violence that propels the novel’s action while also serving as mentor and moral guide to Tony. Shannon, throughout 2016, has proven himself as the ultimate professional actor.

The opening shots of Nocturnal Animals are unlikely anything we have seen before. The same can be said for much of what follows. Kudos to Ford and his cast and crew for a must-see movie.


  1. Mirella McCracken says:

    I love Amy Adams in the movie!

    Mirella >

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