Whenever you’ve got it, hold onto it. Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) has made a new life with husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). It’s a bourgeois life, one that Susan has been accustomed to with well-off parents. It’s also an empty one that only looks glamorous from the outside.
Many years before, Susan found love with writer Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). They married, and things were rosy for a while, until Susan determined that Edward couldn’t take care of her like she wanted to be taken care of due to his overly sensitive nature and writing profession.
Susan receives a manuscript of her ex’s latest novel, Nocturnal Animals, a name Edward affectionately called Susan. It’s a dark tale, about a Texas man and his family who run into a gang of unstable individuals on the highway. Seems random, but the more Susan delves into the novel, some characters and some events hit awfully close to home.
With a title fitting for a horror movie, Nocturnal Animals is dark. It’s uncomfortable. It can be hard to watch and even a little scary. But like the best fashion, it is also impossible to take eyes off of, or forget. Nocturnal Animals illuminates in quality and memorability from from start to finish.
Attention is seized right from the movie’s opening credits sequence. Fashion mogul turned director Tom Ford (A Single Man) certainly sears this sequence on the brain as one that is equal parts revolting yet extremely mesmerizing, with a beautiful dreamlike musical track by composer Abel Korzeniowski.
While the meaning and/artistic merits of said scene are likely to be debated for a while (count yours truly as a guy who gets the meaning but still feels that it’s done for shock more than anything), I’ll admit that it was rather alluring. Much—if not all—of Nocturnal Animals is, whether it be in the sweltering Texas desert heat, or in the cool interiors of an NYC penthouse or art gallery. The color red makes its way into a great deal of the movie. Red typically symbolizes a lot: Love, anger, attention, revenge, courage, to name a few. These are all themes that Ford touches upon or goes into depth on, maybe not perfectly, but they are there.
Honestly, Nocturnal Animals works a lot better narrative-wise than it should. What could easily become confusing to follow never does become so, thanks to on-the-point editing and stylistic choices. The parallels between stories aren’t always congruent with one another, but when they are, Ford’s feature is extremely fascinating and rewarding, and maybe it just requires another watch for every piece to fit snugly. Aside from one visual in particular, he pushes audiences to make their own final decision as to what the meaning of the story is, whether it’s positive or negative, what happens to the (real world) characters, etc. Another strong strength? It’s unpredictable.
It’s no surprise that the cast assembled here makes for one of the stronger ensembles of the 2016 calendar year. When Amy Adams, no obvious slouch, turns in what is probably the fourth best performance of the entire movie (more as a result of her character, not her actual skill), there’s some high level acting present. Jake Gyllenhaal, again pulling double duty in a feature, is brilliant once again, and the writing for his characters allows him to display his amazing skills as both are given wonderful arcs. As an aside, he has what may be the most truest and moving quotes about love I’ve heard in an extremely long time. They are lines of dialogue I’ll never forget.
It’s Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson who give Nocturnal Animals an element of “fun” that would likely not be there without them. Make no mistake as that does not mean the work they do here is not deserving of serious supporting category consideration (already has garnered it at the time of this writing), but their characters are so dogged and world-weary (Shannon) or eccentrically vile (Taylor-Johnson) and it makes for an interesting showdown that could easily be its own movie. Shannon’s been a stud for a while, but it’s nice to see Taylor-Johnson reassert himself as a talent. He’s more or less The Joker as a guy who seemingly just likes to watch the world burn and inflict suffering on people, but he’s chilling every time he’s on screen. Pick better roles please!
I don’t pop Molly I watch Tom Ford. And with Nocturnal Animals, I want to keep watching him, and I hope he directs more. But if it takes seven years to come up with a unique story worth telling in cinematic form, keep on making those Gucci handbags and Saint Laurent dresses while prepping that next film, Ford.
Photo credits go to thefilmstage.com, ukmovies.yahoo.com, and everythingaction.com
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Nice review. I’m all for renting this. Many like you love it.
Something about watching this in the theater did it for me, but if you are so inclined to watch at home, fine too. Just watch!
Great film. I have problems narrative wise–especially because I think the fictional storyline is by far the strongest aspect of the film–but you’re absolutely right when you write this:
“Honestly, Nocturnal Animals works a lot better narrative-wise than it should. What could easily become confusing to follow never does become so, thanks to on-the-point editing and stylistic choices.”
Also, Shannon gives one of my favorite performances of the year. Happy to see Taylor-Johnson pull off that surprise Golden Globe nom.
I definitely agree about the fictional storyline—oh, how that could have been a feature length film all in its own! But, I was still fascinated by the real-life stuff, more and more as the movie went on. I loved the scenes with Jake and Amy as their relationship firms and eventually dissolves.
As I was watching, I was just flat out surprised how easily Ford moved between the stories, I was never lost. Almost all the time these movies like this have issues with that.
So happy for ATJ and Shannon. Have outside hope that Jake G gets a nom for Best Actor, but I doubt it. Hard to say for certain he should get one without seeing everything else but he has one of my favorite lead performances of the year, hell he gives two of them in one movie.
Tom Ford’s effort is a remarkably proficient saga that spans genres. It’s both a cruel Texas crime drama as well as gauzy middle-age melodrama. The framing device was a nice touch.
That’s a great line from your take, Mark. I didn’t really think about that but this is absolutely genre-bending.
Love the review!! I think we posted our respective reviews of this one at the same time!! I’m thinking “I don’t pop Molly, I watch Tom Ford” might be the best review line I’ve ever read!! 🙂 I loved this movie.. truly terrified me in all the right ways. Acting was spot on.. I really hope it gets some Oscar noms.. 🙂
Me too Peggy! Still have much more to see, but as of now it’s in my top 3 of the year. I love it when an Oscar movie makes me actually want to rewatch it.
I had to break out that line haha!
Oh man, this is one of the many films on my end of year to see list. There are so many! But this is near the top of the pile. I was hugely impressed with A Single Man and this looks great. Great piece mate.
I have to watch A Single Man now. I was looking forward to this but I’d say that it surpassed my expectations. Might even give it an A after another rewatch.