Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Books… No Films I've Loved: Nocturnal Animals

I don't often write film reviews here (except during the A-Z challenge when I like to trawl the archives), but tonight I saw something extraordinary.

Nocturnal Animals seamlessly weaves together three distinct time-frames/stories in a way that is not self-conscious or clunky.  In the first, we meet Susan (Amy Adams), an art gallery manager in Los Angeles.  The film opens with the opening of her gallery's latest exhibition which showcases obese women dancing naked.  It's an eye-opening and somewhat confrontational way to start the film, but no less powerful because of it.

The exhibit serves to lampoon the idiocy of the art world, something Susan recognizes all too well.  She's unhappy with her life.  Her husband's business is failing and he's scrambling to save it with a deal.  Their home is a monument to the success they've had and are losing, a cold, overly-polished concrete shell full of beautiful but sterile objects.

When Susan receives a manuscript from her ex-husband in the mail, she's curious.  She hasn't heard from Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) in 20 years.  As she begins reading the book - dedicated to her and entitled 'Nocturnal Animals' in reference to her insomnia - she starts to understand that the roots of her current unhappiness stem from their past.

The book becomes the film's second storyline, a tense tale that begins with a family being run off an isolated desert road by a trio of thugs.  The father and husband, Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal again), winds up alone, desperate for revenge on the people who stole his family.  He teams up with the local sheriff, Bobby (Michael Shannon) to find those who wronged him and to make sure justice is done.

 These parts of the film are brutal, yet the violence isn't depicted onscreen.  It's implied in sound effects and through showing the results of each violent act.

The third thread delves into the past, showing the relationship between a younger Susan and her author husband.  She's his first reader and his harshest critic.  To begin with, it appears these two are made for one another, despite Susan's mother (Laura Linney in a scene-stealing cameo) telling her he's too weak-willed for her.  She also warns that all daughters become their mothers, something that comes back to haunt Susan later when Edward accuses her of becoming her mother in the midst of their break up.

That these three seemingly disparate story lines come together in such a seamless and satisfying way is testament to the skill of both screenwriter/director Tom Ford and his editor, Joan Sobel.

This is an unbelievable stylish film - it's by Tom Ford, so of course it is.  Scenes manage to have both an ethereal beauty and a gritty brutality at the same time.  Visual motifs underline the central theme in the film, usually subtly, but occasionally, as in a scene where Susan visits the art museum she's on the Board of, and stands for several minutes in front of a massive canvas with the word 'revenge' painted across it.

Because this is a film about revenge, something which pays off beautifully in the film's perfect, yet wholly unexpected ending.

I recommend this one very highly, both as an engrossing story that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and as a series of engrossing and detailed character studies.  The cinematography is gorgeous, single frames so breathtaking they could be paintings, and the sound design is exceptionally clever.

But don't just listen to me.  Get out to your local cinema and go see it!


  1. That sounds like a great movie. I'm not sure if it's playing around here, but I'll definitely keep an eye out for it. I really want to know what that ending is.

  2. Great respect for all the actors you mentioned, so on that score alone it certainly sounds like it's worth watching!

  3. Definitely not in my preferred realm of watching, but it's interesting to read about. It takes all kinds, eh?