Starring-Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal
Reviewed April 30, 2017
Nocturnal Animals blurs the lines between fantasy and reality in a revenge themed thriller directed by Tom Ford, in only his second directorial effort- 2009’s A Single Man was his first. While not always hitting the mark and at times very difficult to follow, the film is both unusual and mesmerizing, as well as lovely to look at from a visual perspective. Some scenes literally blur together in a splendid way so that the scenes seem interposed-a brilliant touch. The film is clearly influenced by David Lynch in tone and style.
Events are divided between “The Real World” and “The Novel”. The film begins in a strange manner as a bevy of nude, obese women prance and dance on video screens during an art exhibit opening. The gallery is owned by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a successful woman living a glossy life in Los Angeles. We quickly learn that Susan is involved in a loveless marriage with hunky Hutton (Armie Hammer), a businessman who is inattentive towards Susan. Before Hutton, Susan was briefly married to Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a novelist, who dedicates his latest manuscript to Susan received via mail. As Susan reads the manuscript, she is transported down a dark path of memories and fantasies concerning Edward and their past.
The locales of the film are split largely between Los Angles (the real world), and western Texas (where the novel takes place). This, in itself, is a compelling aspect to the film and really separates the two different worlds. Los Angeles is featured mainly at nighttime as Susan, presumed to be suffering from insomnia, is compelled by her reading. She also rubs shoulders with sophisticated artist types and colleagues at her studio.
Conversely, the setting of western Texas is worlds apart from the Los Angeles setting- like night and day. In Texas, we are introduced to the protagonist of the story that Susan reads. Tony, traveling through Texas with his wife, Laura, and their daughter, India, are accosted and terrorized by passing local motorists. Clearly from out of town, the family is stranded in the middle of nowhere and kept at bay by the rednecks- the story has a tragic ending. The stories intersect in an interesting way as we see the differing worlds.
I found the scenes in western Texas to be frightening and fraught with tense moments- so much so that my heart was beating very fast. I pictured myself as Tony in a situation faced with peril and danger. As the family attempts to reason with the thugs, they get deeper and deeper into trouble. The feeling of being vulnerable and unsafe with no help around is tremendously in the film.
The acting in Nocturnal Animals is excellent all around, no surprise with the tremendous cast. Adams and Gyllenhaal are especially worthy of mention. Their scenes playing via flashbacks, we find them both sympathetic and vulnerable (at first)- he a sensitive writer, she a college girl with aspirations of love and a family life. As the plot thickens both characters become more nuanced and complex- the subject of betrayal and revenge certainly comes into play, and both characters, now older and more pessimistic, intersect again as mature adults.
Michael Shannon, though believable as Detective Bobby Andes, assigned to Tony’s case, and suffering from stage four lung cancer, is not the standout for me, and I disagree with his Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actor. Certainly a fine performance, I would have much rather Gyllenhaal or Aaron Taylor-Johnson (as one of the rednecks) be awarded the nomination.
I was reminded of David Lynch’s masterpiece, Mulholland Drive, largely during the Los Angeles scenes. The slick, night air and the trials and tribulations of the wealthy mirrored each other quite readily. There is a gothic, haunting, moody vibe that the sequences contain.
The central theme of revenge comes into play in both worlds- Tony and Bobby seek revenge on the criminals in western Texas, while revenge also is a focus on Los Angeles, though much more subtle. A hint is given a couple of times in Susan’s art gallery as a large exhibit entitled “Revenge” is a focal point. What the Los Angeles revenge is, however, is not revealed until the very last scene.
One thing is certain about Nocturnal Animals- the film is dreamy, complex, and worthy of a good conversation. Tom Ford is an up and coming director with visual sensibilities and a dream-like vision. I hope we see more from this fascinating director.