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Nocturnal Animals – Movie Review

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Nocturnal Animals – Movie Review

Rating: B (Good)

Trailer/Thumbnail Courtesy Universal Pictures

The role of the reader in how they imagine a book is not a new concept in film. Cinema is probably the best medium to handle this theme due to its visual nature and director/writer Tom Ford explores this idea with relish in Nocturnal Animals. Clearly taking inspiration from the work of David Lynch, this film jumps between the book in the film to the real world, but with a lot left open to the audience to decide what is real or not. The viewer is intended to watch Nocturnal Animals more than once, but not in a way that is overly pompous. While this could be categorised as an “art film”, it does not seek to alienate the audience, though some may be turned off by its harsh violence.

The first hint we might be dealing with an unreliable point-of-view is every single scene is told from art gallery owner Susan’s perspective. When the story jumps into her ex-husband’s manuscript, has Edward imagined himself into the story (as the character Tony) or is Susan doing that herself? It makes one wonder what she is thinking as she slams the manuscript shut in disgust. How personal and autobiographical is this story? Ford cleverly weaves the answers to these questions into the screenplay as he stitches every scene together in a way that naturally flows. When the film jumps back and forth between the present day scenes, the flashbacks and the manuscript, it’s never jarring nor does it take a minute to adjust to the new surroundings.

Edward’s manuscript is also compelling in its own right and could have served as a film on its own. There is a disturbing tension to the way this family is harassed by a group of delinquents and despite being characters within the universe of Nocturnal Animals, there is a sympathy afforded towards them. Tony’s nervousness into entering this world far removed from his own is conveyed exceptionally by Jake Gyllenhaal. Michael Shannon’s role as a tough-as-nails officer leaves a memorable impact, never flinching at the brutal acts his character commits and sharing some notable scenes with Gyllenhaal. Amy Adams plays completely against type as the cold Susan, but is believable in conveying this woman unsure of what emotions to have while seeing what her former husband has put together.

Tom Ford’s fashion designer background comes through in the visual presentation of the film. He slyly makes the “real world” look more artificial than the one depicted in Edward’s manuscript. The use of wild colours in Susan’s art-invested world is vibrant and Ford has given costume designer Arianne Phillips free reign with how to depict the garish colours worn by her high-faluting friends. Abel Korzeniowski’s score adds further to the film’s atmosphere, almost representing Susan’s mind racing as she tries to figure out what Edward is trying to tell her within his story’s prose. Nocturnal Animals catches you off guard from the opening credits and Ford manages to keep the entire film unpredictable without losing too much of its footing.

Nocturnal Animals is the sort of film that could have easily fallen into the trap of so many films that enter the “art thriller” sub-genre and get too focused on visuals and symbolism to tell a compelling story. Thankfully, Tom Ford proves himself a more than capable filmmaker, able to balance artistic production values with a well rounded story and fleshed out characters. The colourful palette of the images compliments Nocturnal Animals rather than detracting from it. That he pulled off the tricky task of jumping between three stories also deserves complementing. Many will compare this film to David Lynch’s works and it does deserve to stand alongside his surreal tales of suburban nightmare.


Stefan Ellison