Nocturnal Animals is the feel bad film of the 2016 holiday cinema season. I don’t think the advertising campaign will include that quote in their marketing materials, but it’s an honest assessment. This is a very downbeat experience with zero humor. It’s also brilliantly realized, full of tension and awash in nihilistic themes. Fashion designer Tom Ford steps behind the camera, writing and directing from the 1993 novel by author Austin Wright. The movie plays like a David Lynch picture from the 1980’s merged with a West Texas crime thriller. Ford manages to navigate the tricky narrative strands of the source material, a feat that would trip up more established filmmakers, having made one of the year’s best films in the process.
Amy Adams plays Susan, a wealthy and emotionally isolated art gallery owner, who’s taken aback when she receives the manuscript of a novel penned by her former husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Twenty years after the young marriage failed, Susan is now the wife of the dashing adulterous Hutton (Armie Hammer), and full of guilt about the way she treated her former lover. So, she sits down and begins to read the novel that Edward has coming out. The story within the story is a harrowing and utterly exhausting tale of revenge that manages to evoke that same emotion out of the audience, even when straining credulity in places.
Mixing the fiction of the novel with the melodrama of the main plot is made even more confounding due to Jake Gyllenhaal playing both Edward and the pathetic main character of the book, Tony. Michael Shannon continues to pile up a collection of memorable roles, the dying Texas lawman with a constant smoke hanging from his mouth and a curious streak, is a welcomed figure in the story and a the actor embodies the Detective with ease. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal of a devious minded white-trash criminal is captivating and looks to have been inspired by Brad Pitt’s character in Kalifornia.
Nocturnal Animals isn’t for all tastes. Among the glut of OSCAR hopefuls that are currently in release or upcoming through the end of the year, Animals might get buried by higher profile projects. If that turns out to be the case look for this title to be a word-of-mouth hit on ancillary channels. This is a film that is sure to garner a rabid cult following. Not recommend for those unfamiliar with the works of Nichols Roeg, David Fincher, or David Cronenberg. Others will find this a full-bodied movie-going experience.
Director: Tom Ford
Stars: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon