“Nocturnal Animals” is written and directed by Tom Ford and stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The film is based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright and is about a woman who runs an art gallery who is given a novel in the mail from her ex-husband, and from there, she is enthralled by the novel, as well as being reminded of some moments from her past.
This movie’s trailer certainly intrigued me, as the story and style here sounded creative enough to really grab my attention. With that, the main cast also included three of my favorite actors working today: Adams, Gyllenhaal, and Shannon, so that alone will get me in the theater.
As I expected, the acting in this film is tremendous by all of its stars. Amy Adams is as solid as she always is in the lead of this film, as her character is very complex, while also being very subdued, and I thought Adams portrayed this character very well. Jake Gyllenhaal, after having a bit of a lull in his career with films like “Demolition” and “Southpaw”, but, with this film, he is absolutely back, as he is brilliant in his role. Gyllenhaal plays a character with various types of emotions being portrayed, and he does each with such tremendous energy, and he really brings up the movie to heightened levels it wouldn’t have reached without him.
The two main supporting actors were both tremendous in their own rights, with both Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson shining in various scenes. Shannon is as terrific as always, and giving him the role of an officer on the edge is something that I loved to watch, and he plays the role excellently. Taylor-Johnson plays a great villainous performance, always being despicable, yet also witty in the worst ways possible, and he was tough to watch, but always gripping.
While the acting was as expected, it was the superb direction from fashion icon Tom Ford that really caught me by surprise, as he did a magnificent job with adapting this book to the big screen. The way Ford masterfully moves between three different plot developments is beautifully done, and consistently kept me on my toes. Ford also balances ambiguity with exposition, as I always found myself learning new information within each of its storylines, but always wanting more until the conclusion, where I was left with my mind reeling.
Ford’s direction also worked wonders with the cinematography done by Seamus McGarvey, as these two combined to make a film that not only is well put together story-wise, but also one that is stunning to look at in the process. From the gorgeous, comical opening shots to the beautiful imagery of landscapes and art design, there is no doubt “Nocturnal Animals” is aesthetically pleasing, but it also has the storyline to back that up.
I loved the style in which this movie was told, as it led to a film experience that felt incredibly unique. I have seen split timelines before, I have seen transitions from the present to the past before, but I have never seen these mixed in with a visual interpretation of a book thrown in as well. While all of the pieces of this film are intriguing in their own right, it is this visual rendition of the book written by the ex-husband that had me totally engulfed. From its gut-wrenching opening sequence to its thrilling sequences that follow, this third of the movie could have been a masterpiece on its own.
The problem with having a third of your film being so damn good is that it makes the other two-thirds of your film feel lesser by comparison, and that is sadly the case here. There are absolutely moments in both of the other plotlines that are great, and they are essential in telling the story right, but they just do not compare to the visceral power that is this book, and while that may even be the point, it just had me wanting more from over half of the movie.
While I believe Tom Ford’s direction is excellent, I think his script has some on the nose dialogue that got in the way on occasion, and, though this is certainly a tough piece of source material to adapt, I think there are some kinks that could have been worked out in the dialogue. Also, although Amy Adams is great, I do feel the script often holds her back, as her character often lacks the emotion that Adams can certainly bring to the table. Adams often finds herself looking incredibly down and exhausted, and she does this well, but I wish the script had her doing more instead of doing so little.
I didn’t love the concluding moments of the film as much as I wanted, even if it left me thinking about the film for hours after viewing. I now understand its purpose, without spoiling, but it still felt like it just didn’t hit as hard as it was supposed to, and I wished that the film concluded with something more impactful instead of staying subtle.
“Nocturnal Animals” offers a uniquely made film with some great acting performances, beautiful cinematography, and a superb direction. The film may not be perfect, and it has some shortcomings when looking at feelings of emotion (or lack thereof) or with its occasional flaws in the screenplay, but “Nocturnal Animals” is a film that dares to be different, and I believe it does that with aplomb, and it is a movie that’s better off for it.
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