Nocturnal Animals is a 2016 neo-noir thriller film directed by Tom Ford and features a notable group of stars; Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Isla Fisher, Laura Linney, and Aaron Taylor Johnson.
Susan Morrow (Adams) is a wealthy art-gallery owner, who lives in a complicated marriage with her husband constantly away on business trips. Morrow is delivered a manuscript from her ex-husband, writer Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal), titled Nocturnal Animals. The manuscript tells the story of a couple who have a supposed road trip go horribly wrong. Morrow reads through the manuscript, finding herself haunted by memories of her past.
There is no sweet or cheeky fluff here. Nocturnal Animals is dark, biting, and will leave your head rattled. Tom Ford has stylishly crafted a thriller that does what just about any thriller should do, which is make you think a little more when it's over.
If the opening credits which are sequences of obese, naked women dancing around doesn't make you uncomfortable, then I'm not sure what will. The sequence is an appropriate metaphor about what transpires throughout the film. On the surface is a relationship of love that seems to have artfulness to it, like a perfectly normal woman dancing to a melodic tune. But when we throw in malevolent and grotesque details, we now get a layer of fat that perverts what may have once been beautiful and meaningful.
- The neo-noir elements and cinematography. Tom Ford and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey have shots frequently shown with low-lighting and shady coloring. It heavily reminds me of Donnie Darko, another Jake Gyllenhaal film that felt dark and brooding in almost every frame, even ones clearly during the day-time. The tone and atmosphere are effectively eerie, and we are unsettled as an audience.
- The acting. Everyone in the pseudo-ensemble cast does a job well done in their respective roles. Adams is excellent, evenly balancing mental confliction with emotional flare. Gyllenhaal thrives playing a fictional character within the manuscript who grows more disturbed by the minute. Michael Shannon also deserves praise as a police detective who loves to size up arrested criminals.
- While Michael Shannon's performance deserves praise, his character is given weak development that weighs down on the progression of the story. Some information is simply dumped on us, such as announcing that he has lung cancer just out of the blue while sitting with Gyllenhaal in a diner. Shannon then begins to act noticeably sick the rest of the way. At times, it seems that Shannon's character almost takes over the movie, and Gyllenhaal's character is left to play bystander. When all is said and done, you might think if so much screen time was necessary for a character whose appearance seems only necessary to help Gyllenhaal until Gyllenhaal can move forward on his own.
Nocturnal Animals is a head-trip, crawling under your skin and taking you out of your comfort zone. Tom Ford has crafted a dark and sometimes stylish thriller that also helps Amy Adams promptly finish what should be considered one of the best years of her career.
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