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Nocturnal Animals Movie Review

Nocturnal Animals (2016) movie poster Nocturnal Animals

Theatrical Release: November 18, 2016 / Running Time: 117 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Tom Ford / Writers: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (novel Tony and Susan)

Cast: Amy Adams (Susan Morrow), Jake Gyllenhaal (Tony Hastings/Edward Sheffield), Michael Shannon (Bobby Andes), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Ray Marcus), Isla Fisher (Laura Hastings), Ellie Bamber (India Hastings), Armie Hammer (Hutton Morrow), Karl Glusman (Lou), Robert Aramayo (Turk), Laura Linney (Anne Sutton), Andrea Riseborough (Alessia), Michael Sheen (Carlos), India Menuez (Samantha Morrow), Imogen Waterhouse (Chloe)


Seven years after making his filmmaking debut on A Single Man, fashion designer Tom Ford finally delivers his follow-up film, Nocturnal Animals.

This sophomore effort opens in bizarre fashion with the opening credits laid over morbidly obese women, middle-aged or older, dancing naked with sparklers in hand or other props. They are part of an exhibition of accomplished art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams). One of the film's protagonists, Susan is in a crumbling marriage to handsome,
hardworking businessman Hutton (Armie Hammer) she has reason to believe is sleeping around. While trying to work things out with him, Susan gets a package from her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). It is the manuscript for his first novel, a thriller which shares a title with this film.

Edward's book is a real page-turner for Susan, who can't put it down. It quickly takes over the film, telling the story of family man Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal), who is driving across West Texas with his wife (Isla Fisher) and teenaged daughter (Ellie Bamber) at night. Amidst the dark drive, the family encounters a hostile car of three joy riders, who cause an accident and force the family off the road. The other car's driver Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) offers to change the Hastings' flat tire. It is an uncomfortable situation and the family feels understandably threatened. It only gets worse when two of the guys drive off with Tony's wife and daughter, while the third guy leaves him in the desert without a ride.

"Nocturnal Animals" stars Amy Adams as Susan Morrow, an art gallery owner who gets wrapped up in a manuscript written and sent to her by her ex-husband.

Tony eventually reaches civilization and gets in touch with Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), a lawman who takes his job seriously and wants nothing more than to help Tony and bring the perpetrators to justice.

Most of the film unfolds inside this fictional story, but Susan's history with the author is gradually fleshed out. Each other's childhood crush, they reconnect as grad students in New York and get married against the explicit wishes of Susan's nasty mother (a one-scene Laura Linney). There are some obvious parallels between Edward's Texas page-turner and his failed marriage to Susan, which the film wisely does not belabor. Both narratives, which are woven together with ambivalence towards chronology, hold our interest so we are never bummed to leave one and return to the other.

Once again, Ford displays a confident control of visual flair, which is perhaps to be expected given his background. What is refreshing and rewarding, as it was on A Single Man, is that Ford backs up the style with substance in the form of complex and compelling story and characters, which in this case are adapted from Austin Wright's 1993 novel Tony and Susan. Some may find the presentation disjointed, for it is set in two starkly different worlds and each strikes a different tone. But the congruity of the two intrigues, as does each narrative on its own.

In the story within, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) returns to the scene of the crime with straight-shooting detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to get answers.

Adams is great, which is little surprise since she just about always is. It will be interesting to see if this performance works against her turn in Arrival or if the two complement one another to strengthen her Oscar campaign (as Revolutionary Road and The Reader did for Kate Winslet in 2008 and The Hunger Games
and Silver Linings Playbook did for Jennifer Lawrence in 2012.) Moving her to Supporting Actress for this would lessen the self-competition and it wouldn't be the biggest category fraud we've seen in recent years. But she is clearly the film's female lead.

Gyllenhaal continues to impress as well. He gave one of this year's best performances in Demolition, a movie hardly anyone saw despite getting a fairly sizable release. He is nearly as good here, mainly as the character in the story within. Even better is Michael Shannon, who adds to his resume of fascinating characters as a detective whose moral ambiguity we can get on board with. If the movie gets just one Oscar nomination, it could very well be a Supporting Actor nod for Shannon. However, Adapted Screenplay and Editing nods also definitely seem in play.

Nocturnal Animals is probably too strange for mass consumption, but it deserves to be seen as an artful and unique drama, whose acting, directing, and writing all ranks up there among the year's finest.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Arrival Loving Moonlight Manchester by the Sea The Birth of a Nation
Written and Directed by Tom Ford: A Single Man
Amy Adams: Doubt The Fighter Julie & Julia American Hustle Her The Muppets Enchanted
Jake Gyllenhaal: Demolition Nightcrawler Zodiac | Michael Shannon: Revolutionary Road Take Shelter 99 Homes
Third Person Secret in Their Eyes

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Reviewed November 11, 2016.

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