Nocturnal Animals – Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals missed my radar when it came out last year.  I did remember seeing the trailers when I saw that it posted on HBO GO and I was intrigued when I read the plot but not quite enough to get around to watching it.  Then my sister recommended it to me and she’s not one to really recommend movies that often so I took that to heart and finally took sometime to check out this awesome film by relative new comer Tom Ford.

Nocturnal Animals follows art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) as she reads through a novel manuscript written and sent to her by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). As she reads through the novel, we see it played out on screen with the depiction of the events of the novel inter-cut with scenes of Susan as she goes about her life and flashbacks of Susan’s past as she dates, marries, and eventually divorces Edward. The novel follows Tony Hastings (again played by Jake Gyllenhaal) as he sets out on a road trip with his wife and daughter (Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber) only to run afoul of some troublemakers (led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson) in the nowhere’s of West Texas. Without giving anything away, things go really wrong for the family.

This movie has a spectacular flow to it. Weaving two, sometimes three, narratives together through this film is a daunting task and, if done poorly, would make for a disaster of a film.  That is absolutely not the case here. Jumping around as much as this movie does, it could be easy to get lost in the mix, especially if you’re not paying attention, but I really only found myself lost once and that was the first time there was a flashback. It kind of comes out of no where but once you figure out what’s going on, it’s no big deal. Director Tom Ford and Editor Joan Sobel do an amazing job of placing all the scene changes and cuts right where they’re supposed to be to achieve maximum effect. There are more than a few scenes where tense moments in the “novel” portions are paid off with a hard cut back to the present and it’s used to great effect. It’s worth noting that this movie is based on a book titled Tony and Susan by Austin Wright so some of the layout may have been predetermined, however I haven’t read the book so I can’t speak directly to that.  On the flip side though, if the book is anything like the movie, I might have to pick up a copy before too long.

I’m not sure Jake Gyllenhaal can give a bad performance as he is again outstanding in this film, especially having to play two characters. The character in the novel, Tony, is the more meatier role of the two and Gyllenhaal owns every minute of it.  Amy Adams is also fantastic as per usual and Isla Fisher, has a small role but she still turns in a solid performance.  Michael Shannon plays Detective Bobby Andes and he is close to a stand out in this film. I’m not usually big fan of his but he brings it in this film. The absolute show stealer here though has to be one Mr. Aaron Taylor-Johnson.  I’ve always thought of Taylor-Johnson as a good actor, especially in supporting roles but not quite leading man material.  His role in Nocturnal Animals has proven me dead wrong.  I saw Taylor-Johnson’s name go by in the opening credits and then promptly forgot he was in this film until the end credits when I saw which character he played and holy shit is he out-standing/phenomenal/amazing here.  It’s a special thing when an actor can completely disappear into a character and you can completely miss the man under the mask.

Overall, I really enjoyed this film. There’s a lot to chew on and the tension this movie generates is fantastic.  It’s a movie that keeps you on edge.  Not “edge of your seat” like an action movie would, but definitely “on edge” in such away that you’re always just a bit unsettled and a bit uncomfortable in all the right ways.  The ending does leave off on kind of a weird note, as if there was supposed to be some revelation or something like that, but I think it may have gone over my head a little bit as I haven’t quite figured it out yet.  Or maybe that was the point, to leave you in a place to where you have to mentally chew on this film for a few days.  Either way, it left an impact on me.  One other note – I usually hate having to watch movies in pieces, especially movies that I’ve never seen before, because I feel like it breaks the train of emotions the filmmakers want you to follow over the course of the movie but I did have to watch this one in two parts.  Mostly because I started it too late the first night and couldn’t keep my eyes open. But coming back to it the second night, I was right back in the emotional place this movie wants you to be in and, to me, that’s a sign of a great movie.

Final Rating: B+

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