I will start off by saying this film is not for everyone.
I just got home from seeing Nocturnal Animals, and I can already tell by the audience reactions that this movie will have its equal share of lovers and haters. The theater was silent the entire film, which confirms the fact that it captivated undivided attention. However, the ending came at us quickly, which drew a lot of unfulfilled sighs and uncomfortable chuckles. I particularly thought it could’ve, and really should’ve, ended about five minutes prior to its actual ending. With that said, I didn’t have a big enough issue with the ending that would’ve altered my overall opinion of the film.
I thought Nocturnal Animals was a cave that got darker the deeper you went into it. It was an extremely obscure and emotional film underneath a symbolic, visual accomplishment to the eye. Honestly, this movie was the most disturbing movie I think I have seen in theaters, and second only to A Clockwork Orange as the darkest movie I’ve seen ever. Just about every evil vice is in this movie in some capacity at one point or another.
The movie revolves around Susan (Amy Adams), a high-level artist and art gallery owner, receiving a rough draft copy of her ex-husband Edward’s (Jake Gyllenhaal) novel, entitled “Nocturnal Animals.” From there, the movie is split into two stories: the actual reality and the novel itself. The reality plot is Susan and her roller coaster of emotions while reading the book, while her visualization of the book as she reads it is the supplemental plot.
Jake Gyllenhaal also plays the role of Tony, who is the main character in the novel. Susan shows her true feelings for Edward through the visualization of Tony. That’s one of the unique ideas in the direction of Tom Ford that I really enjoyed. He was able to masterfully tell not only a story within a story, but also a story within the mind of the reader of the story. I told you this movie was deep! Equally impressive was the portrayal of both characters by Gyllenhaal. He is impressive and complex in every film he is in and one day he will win an Oscar – mark my words!
Tony and Edward have to deal with men dividing their family – Tony physically and Edward emotionally. Both Tony and Edward have their hearts broken but in vastly different ways. However, Susan envisions Tony as having the same internal flaws as Edward – weak, passive, soft. In the same breath, what she viewed at one point in her life as flaws, she now embraces as strengths. For instance, his “weak” is now his “sensitivity.” She wishes she could have seen Edward for who he truly is and was during their marriage and hates herself for focusing on most of those traits as negatives. Those same negatives are what led to her falling out of love with him (the right man for her) and in love with Hutton (Armie Hammer), her new husband and polar opposite of Edward. As you can see, regret is a strong and clear theme of this movie.
Another theme, which is actually the central theme, is revenge (there is literally a part in the movie where Susan is looking at a painting in the art gallery that only says “Revenge” in black paint). They say revenge is a dish best served cold, and Gyllenhaal gets two scoops of it through both Edward and Tony. Tony’s accomplice is Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), an all-business West Texas detective who seeks justice and retribution by any means necessary. Later on, we find out that Edward’s accomplice is actually his novel itself, which acts as a cerebral nuclear bomb to his ex-wife. I feel like I’m in danger of saying too much about the story (after all, I want you all to see these movies and judge for yourselves), so let’s move on.
I somehow didn’t put it together that Tom Ford, the director of Nocturnal Animals, is the same Tom Ford as the fashion designer mogul. When you see the movie, you will understand how that explains a lot. This visual direction is extremely artistic. Even the fact that Susan herself is an artist makes all the sense in the world that they would pick a true artist to direct the film! The cinematography would’ve made Andy Warhol proud. Ford does not have a lot of films under his belt, but depending on how this film is received, he could be on the verge of a career renaissance. I don’t believe a fashion designer of Ford’s magnitude has ever successfully crossed over into movie directing, so this is definitely unchartered waters. I think Ford should be an absolute lock to be nominated for an Oscar, but I wonder if the academy will be open to an outsider achieving such a feat.
Michael Shannon’s portrayal of Detective Andes is superb. At times, I felt like he stole the movie from Gyllenhaal. That’s not a knock at all on Jake, but rather a huge endorsement of Michael. I really enjoy everything he does, and he too should win an Oscar at some point in his career.
Nocturnal Animals was an excellent title for this film. You could say its meaning is derived from the disgusting good ol’ boys who carjacked Tony and his family underneath the blanket of the dark, Texas night. You could say it’s a metaphor for Susan and her late-night insomnia-driven binge reading of the novel itself. You could even simply say, “Well, Chris, it’s the actual name of the damn book in the story!” No matter which of these is in line with your line of thinking, you would be right.
I’m realizing that I love ambiguity in movies. For those who don’t agree with me on this one, you’re entitled to your opinion, and I respect that. I will say this, though…the days of the “cookie cutter, good guys win in the end and get the girl” endings have been over for quite some time now, and definitive endings are now endangered, too. More and more, directors are choosing to end films without “true” endings, allowing us as the viewer to create or assume our own. There are some things we are just going to have to get used to, whether we like it or not.
Overall, I thought Nocturnal Animals was a riveting, hypnotic thriller of its own kind with a terrific ensemble cast. I think it may be the most polarizing movie of the year – people are going to either love it or hate it. It is a movie that can be hard to watch at times (especially the opening credits…wow…), but in the end, I put this one in the win column for Tom Ford, who successfully paints a dark portrait to an even darker story.
MATTER RATING: 8/10
OSCAR SCALE: 7/10
BY: CHRIS GUEST