Nocturnal Animals, produced and adapted into a screenplay by Tom Ford (yes, the clothing designer) and starring Amy Adams as Susan Morrow and Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony Hastings/Edward Sheffield, is the story of an unhappily married art gallery owner reading an intriguing book her ex-husband has written and sent to her. The movie has three moving parts: the present which features Susan’s life with her current husband; the past which features Susan’s life with her ex-husband; and Susan’s interpretation of this book. She takes the book personally, because you know that person; everything is about them – and she literally (on screen) imagines the book is about her ex, a character who looks very much like herself and their daughter. Jake Gyllenhaal plays dual roles as the ex-husband/author of the book and the book’s main character in Susan’s imagination as she reads.
The most interesting part of the movie by far is the book itself, which has a strong theme regarding the perception of strength and weakness, which was at the crux of the problems in Susan and Tony’s marriage. The book has drama, suspense and darkness. Susan is consumed by this book as she tries to understand the figurative meaning behind it and it provides a much needed distraction from other things going on in her life. There are parts of the book that cause her to have flashbacks to certain points in the past where we learn about her tumultuous relationship with Tony. So, this is how the three moving parts interact.
One can easily see the appeal of this story to Ford, as it allows him to delve into all things artistic and beautiful including set designs, camerawork, wardrobe – all things visual arts. This movie serves as a worthy vehicle for his vision as a writer and director.
That being said, I will tell you little more about the movie specifically. This movie captures your attention from the opening credits quite immediately. I can say with some certainty, you’ve never seen anything quite like it. From there, there are high points and low points, exciting, suspenseful moments and unfortunately, some lulls.
The main function of Amy Adams’ character is reading this book, so her role is not the meatiest. Jake Gyllenhaal does stronger acting than I think I’ve ever seen him do. The standout acting here is performed by Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Either of them could very well end up with a supporting actor nod. They were entertaining, tough, mentally unwell, funny, scary and convincing at it all.
Nocturnal Animals is an intricate tale, but the story itself at times seems a bit self-absorbed as it unnecessarily attempts to be more edgy than it already is. Other times it focuses too much on smaller details and not enough on the larger questions. One glaring question in particular had me confused. There were several points where I checked my watch, shifted in my seat, wondered if I would make it through to the end. It could have used a cut of about a good 10 minutes. There were certainly times during this film where I was just disinterested in what happens next to Adam’s character and just wanted to get back into the book. The book was the only place I was truly transported out of the theater and into suspense and terror and pain. But in all honestly, at some point even the book got on my nerve and I was over the entire movie.
Nocturnal Animals earned 8 out of 10 bloops. It is an interesting movie with potential to be excellent that didn’t quite hit its mark in execution. Its originality lies in its interesting format of a book being read and portrayed within a movie, but because the three moving parts mentioned above didn’t flow seamlessly enough, it had a very “choppy” feel. I was into the movie, then back in the theater, into the movie, then back in the theater too many times to enjoy it fully. Despite the things I thought went wrong with this movie, a lot went right enough to give it a watch at some point. I give credit for a good effort on Mr. Ford’s part and am looking forward to seeing what he will take on as his next project.
1 = worst ever, avoid at all cost
2 = very bad, forget about it!
3 = poor movie, not recommended
4 = not good, even for free – NO!
5 = so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6 = not bad, could have been better
7 = good movie, worth seeing
8 = great movie, don’t miss it!
9 = excellent movie, a must see!
10 = a masterpiece, go see it now!