Review: "Nocturnal Animals"
Tom Ford’s second feature film, Nocturnal Animals, tells the story of Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), an artist and art gallery owner. Her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) mails her a manuscript of his newest novel, which tells the heart wrenching story of a man, Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal), whose wife and daughter are raped and murdered by a psychotic man in rural Texas. These two stories are told at the same time as Susan remembers her life with her ex-husband and why she leaves him for Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer), a richer and successful businessman. It seems complicated when written here, but the three stories are interwoven beautifully and as more is revealed throughout the film, some questions are answered while more are raised.
This story is not for the faint of heart. Rape, brutal murder, and more was a constant throughout the film. The incredible tension during some scenes was spectacularly done, especially one of the opening scenes. The first scene from the book as the family is attacked had my attention constantly. Breaks were given as the camera cuts away to Susan reading and being visibly uncomfortable. The camera within the scene barely moved and is the constant bystander to the horrifying events unfolding. The dark lighting left only the family and the attackers to look at, accentuating the vulnerability of the middle class family coming from the safety of the suburbs into this unknown world. This first scene and the rest of the story plays an important role in what was shown of Susan’s stories, her past with Edward and her present; this was something for the viewer to see and understand.
The cinematography is another place where this movie shined. Beautiful scene after beautiful scene is created as they are linked together through many match cuts, when the editor paired together similar shapes in the frame. One of the most notable and most memorable scenes is when Tony sees his dead wife and daughter, embraced and nude, lying together on a bright red couch next to an abandoned trailer. A common theme throughout the film was this beauty found in horrible places. The cinematography continued to be beautiful as the film continued but there was really not much to talk about there. It’s beautiful, the match cuts are amazing, but it is not incredibly unique, just very well done for what it is. I unconsciously expected this since the director, Tom Ford, is a fashion designer and not as well known for his film career (I was incredibly surprised to hear that he also wrote this script, an amazing feat). Ford does do the mise-en-scene beautifully. Each scene and costume design is incredibly well crafted. I was particularly amazed at Susan Morrow’s costume and makeup changes throughout the stages of her life.
Amy Adams’ portrayal of Susan Morrow is probably the best part of this film, including the performance from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon. The script and the story are a little hard to follow and purposefully complicated, and while the cinematography was incredibly well done, there is not much to say about it after one viewing. But, the acting can be spoken about indefinitely. This was one of the best performances from Amy Adams I have ever seen. She does a wonderful job keeping the same basis of a character while moving between two different states of Susan Morrow. The depressed and insomniac the audience saw from the beginning and in the present is incredibly different from the happier and more real version we see in her history, yet it is still the same base character. And Jake Gyllenhaal did not fail his audience with Nocturnal Animals. The audience was shown little of his kind and gentle Edward Sheffield, but this character carried over into his portrayal of Tony Hastings, a similarly kind and sensitive man who becomes a guilt and pain ridden shell of his former self.
Be warned if you wish to see this film, there is extreme suspense and tension paired with brutal visions of rape and murder, it also includes a large amount of nudity. Also, a warning to those who are expecting a simple linear story, Nocturnal Animals is nothing of the sort. This audience will have questions throughout the film, few of which are answered as more questions are raised. In fact, the plot might be a little too over complicated. The audience questions many of the decisions of the characters and there is one scene in particular that puts everything into a different perspective, only to never be pursued. This movie requires one to think about it for days after its first viewing, and I can’t wait for second and third viewings where, hopefully, I can find some answers.
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