Review 346: Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Fashion Designer Tom Ford second film, Nocturnal Animals, is not an easy film to review with one watch. Its cast includes quite a bit of talent that is led by Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The tone is not a happy one and I’m finding it hard to separate my feelings about the film and the way the film made me feel. There are several layers in the film and making sure I understand what Ford is going for will heavily impact my take on the story. After lots of deliberation, Nocturnal Animals earns the Not Quite Golden, Ponyboy rating.
Nocturnal Animals tells three stories, two of which focus on Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). Morrow is an art gallery owner who receives a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). In the book, Tony (also Gyllenhaal) watches helplessly as his life is changed by three men in an act that Susan seems to start being paranoid the book has sinister implications. While Morrow works her way through the novel and her day to day live, she remembers her life before meeting Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer) and the person she once was.
Michael Shannon plays a police officer named Bobby Andes and definitely gives my favorite performance. Him next to Jake Gyllenhaal makes for one awesome pairing for the film. Gyllenhaal doesn’t do anything in one instance that’s impressive, but the contrast of his characters in the film are definitely. Tony is heartbroken and seeking revenge all while filled with guilt and remorse for his inaction. Edward was a nice guy with romantic ideals that ultimately cost him the things he loved and wanted. There is an emotional moment that Gyllenhaal looks more like he has something in his right eye than he looks like he’s crying.
Adams plays another sad character, but does it expertly
Adams gives another somber performance similar to her character in Arrival. The big difference between the two would be that Morrow is missing excitement, passion, and hope. It’s a subtle difference, but extremely noticeable. The sadness in Morrow is embodied in her insomnia, which really plays on her paranoia about the book. The film is about her and her unhappiness about where her choices in life have led her. The regret she clearly feels only grows exponentially as she reads Edward’s book, Nocturnal Animals. While her performance is quiet and small, it’s full of a lot of details about the character.
There are some moments in the film that feel like they’re underdeveloped or rushed. There is a moment where a big reveal occurs, but the camera doesn’t linger on it as long as it feels like it should. There’s no aftermath from that moment and we’re left to make assumptions. There are a few characters introduced that lead to nothing and really don’t add anything much to the film in a big way. Yet, there are so many little things that seem innocuous at first, but clearly have much deeper meanings upon analysis. There will be some spoilers to follow!
SPOILER WARNING: SKIP TO THE LAST PARAGRAPH IF YOU WANT TO AVOID
One of the layers that I’m extremely torn about is the moment Morrow calls her daughter. In story from the book, Tony has just found his wife and daughter dead and intertwined on a couch in the middle of a dump. The visual of their naked bodies is then matched as Morrow’s daughter is shown lying naked intertwined with her lover in the same fashion. Their conversation is short and essentially just small talk as Morrow needed to confirm her daughter was safe after such a tragic moment in the book.
Yet, we later learn that she aborted a baby that her and Edward would have had because she was planning on divorcing him. Edward not only seems to have found out about the abortion, but also sees Morrow in the arms of Hutton immediately after the procedure. So, the question becomes did she actually have another child with Hutton. It’s possible that they did and the child is grown up, but the visuals and the story seem to imply a much darker explanation. The film has many things like this and her insomnia definitely justifies a lot of the odd perceptions Morrow makes in the film. A blurred line between reality and the fiction of the novel is definitely a theme that Ford plays with.
It’s possible that this film will end up feeling more like a Must See or drop down to a Decent Watch. There is a lot of interesting things to think about in the film. It’s ultimately a sad story with a cynical perspective of reality. However, there is a lot of reasons to have a cynical point-of-view right now, and I am a fan of the noir genre, which this film seems to pull from tonally. If this film is playing near you, which is likely considering we got it in our small town, then it’s worth a watch.