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  • Nocturnal Animals | Review

    By | December 9, 2016


    Director: Tom Ford

    Writers: Tom Ford (screenplay), Austin Wright (novel)

    Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Rober Aramayo, Laura Linney

    From the opening sequence, featuring slo-mo footage of a variety of obese, older, scarred women dancing mostly nude in majorette uniforms with pom poms or sparklers in their hands, equal parts intriguing, ominous and off-putting, it’s clear that this is a film that will be both striking and non-conventional, a film that will turn conventional wisdom on its head and make you think about the images you’re fed and the way you react to them.

    As the camera finally pans out , we discover that the dancing women are part of an art opening curated by Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), the wealthy owner of an art gallery. It’s soon revealed that she’s in a passionless second marriage weighted down by financial struggles, when suddenly she receives a packaged delivered to her office. Inside the box is a draft of a novel, Nocturnal Animals, written by her first husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) with a note from him. She had cruelly left him for the man that would become her second husband and she hasn’t spoken to him in nineteen years.

    As she begins to read the novel, the film begins to jump between the story of the novel and Susan’s current day to day life in the art gallery, with intermittent flashbacks chronicling the beginning, blossoming, unraveling and destruction of her first marriage. The bulk of the film’s run time focuses on the novel’s Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his family, who find themselves the victims of a violent assault and abduction during a nighttime West Texas drive to Marfa. The assault itself is masterfully staged, managing to elicit a wide range of strong emotions: tension, anger, fear, shock, dismay, confusion, etc.

    In the aftermath of the incident, Tony works with local lawman Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), a tough, old-school, no-nonsense Texas lawman who is close to losing his battle with lung cancer and clearly believes in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth and that if you can’t get justice through the system, there are other ways to even the scales. Tony, a man clearly much less comfortable with violence, struggles to make sense of not only the events but also his own reactions to them. Shannon and Gyllenhaal both turn in memorable performances and are electric together.

    While we see Susan struggling with her emotions and conscience as she reads the novel, it’s not until late in the film that it becomes clear how the story of the novel ties in to the story of Susan Morrow and Edward Sheffield but suffice it to say that both stories revolve around loss and its impact and deal with notions of justice and revenge. Director Tom Ford, who himself is a fashion designer, casts a withering (and presumably knowledgeable) eye on the world of high end art and it’s sense of frigid artifice and it’s interesting to compare that world in the film to that of Texas lawman Andes, who seems to be a man of confidence, a doer who strides through his world confidently, knowing who and what he is and his role in the world.

    Rating: 8/10

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