If you are looking for a creative, dark movie that will keep you thinking well after leaving the theater, look no further than “Nocturnal Animals.” Stylish and artistic, this is a must-see that stands out above others during the annual fall influx of Oscar-caliber films.
Directed by famous fashion designer Tom Ford, “Nocturnal Animals,” released worldwide Friday, is a twisted drama about an unhappy artist (Amy Adams) who receives a strange book written by her ex-husband that throws her life out of proportion by forcing her to question her past decisions.
Interestingly, the story happening in the book is acted out in the film, creating a “frame narrative.” The novel, also titled “Nocturnal Animals,” is about a troubled father (Jake Gyllenhaal), searching for revenge against the three men who murdered his wife and daughter.
Any time a film breaks up the traditional linear narrative, it runs the risk of confusing the audience. But “Nocturnal Animals” is able to weave the fictional novel scenes into the reality scenes in a way that helps the viewer’s understanding of the movie rather rather than hurts it.
It is impossible to pinpoint what genre “Nocturnal Animals” falls under. The dual narrative structure allows the film to simultaneously be an introspective character piece about a woman struggling with her identity, and a gritty crime thriller. But it also has elements of action, mystery and even horror.
Ford does an excellent job of making the audience feel uncomfortable throughout the film, either by providing tension in action scenes or by creating an unsettling mood that lingers from shot to shot. Even a scene of Adams laying on a bed can cause goosebumps to wriggle up your arms.
The film is also one of the best-looking films of the year. The cinematography is sleek and stylish in scenes of a contemporary Los Angeles mansion, and dry and saturated in the fictional desert scenes where the novel murder takes place, giving the film a distinct look.
In addition to substance and style, the film excels in the acting department. It features strong leading and supporting roles from talented actors who fall just outside the A-List category.
Adams excellently plays her character, Susan Morrow, as a woman unhappy with life and struggling to come to terms with her identity and the reality around her. She is supported by under-appreciated actor Micheal Shannon, who shines in his role as the hard-nosed detective aiding Gyllenhaal in his revenge quest.
But Gyllenhaal is the one who really steals the show. It is one of his best performances to date, but still not as good as his Oscar-caliber role in the film “Nightcrawler,” which remains the definitive Gyllenhaal film.
In “Nocturnal Animals” he plays two characters, Susan’s ex-husband and author of the book, Edward, and the fictional protagonist of that book, Tony. Yet the fictional Tony is just a manifestation of Edward himself expressed through writing. So while Edward may barely be in the film, he completes a full character arc through Tony.
Gyllenhaal plays the role excellently, transitioning smoothly from a sensitive romantic with the inability to act to a determined, violent man set on revenge. The revenge is both real and fictional; Edward is trying to get back at Susan for ending their marriage, and Tony is hunting down his family’s killers.
From Gyllenhaal’s performance, to the cinematography, to the unique storyline, “Nocturnal Animals” is a movie you can’t keep your eyes off of. It is riveting and thought-provoking from beginning to end.
Ford intentionally leaves the ending of the movie with little resolution, leaving what transpires to be up to the audience’s interpretation. This is infuriating to movie fans who like closure to a story, but can be exciting to those who enjoy a creative story ending that forces you to think after you leave the theater.
The greatest strength of “Nocturnal Animals” is the film’s uniqueness. It takes risks by departing from the traditional narrative film structure, avoiding clichés and refusing to pigeonhole itself into one category.
The way “Nocturnal Animals” blends so many different genres into a cohesively great product is a creative triumph that any film fanatic will enjoy.