Life is depressing, then you die. It’s that simple.
Despite the big house and even bigger bank account, Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is still incredibly sad about something. Her second husband (Armie Hammer) constantly leaves for business trips, when in reality, he’s just having sex with other women; she doesn’t keep in-touch with her teenage daughter; and she’s still feeling some sort of guilt from having cheated on her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). But for one reason or another, he sends her a transcript of his latest novel and it absolutely haunts Susan’s life – in her dreams, at work, at her house, seemingly everywhere. And why is that? Well, it just so happens to be a random tale about a husband (also Jake Gyllenhaal), a wife (Isla Fisher), and a daughter (Ellie Bamber) who get ran-off the road by a bunch of mean, dirty and foul Southerners. What does this novel have to do with Susan’s life? Well, she doesn’t quite know, but the more she continues to read, the more she starts to think about her own life and all of the countless decisions she should have, or shouldn’t have, made.
It’s been nearly seven years later since famed fashion-designer Tom Ford’s A Single Man and well, he’s been sorely missed. While that movie not just proved to be a great acting showcase for the always underrated Colin Firth, it also proved to the world that Ford was more than just one of the biggest, most notorious names in the fashion-world. His aspirations and ambitions with his career went further beyond designing pretty clothes and making a heap-tons of money – he had a skill for directing movies and guess what? It all showed.
But what’s so interesting about A Single Man and Nocturnal Animals, his latest, is that Ford shows he doesn’t just have a knack for crafting beautiful visuals, but also knows how to make, well, a movie, with a good story, good acting, and most importantly, emotion. This time around, however, Ford’s creative-skills are put to the test in that he takes on what is, essentially, two movies into one; there’s the dark, depressing character-drama about sad and lonely rich people, and then, there’s the even darker, but far more grueling and violent Southern-revenge thriller. What do the two have to do with one another?
Well, I’m still trying to figure that all out.
However, there’s no denying that Ford crafts a very interesting, if at times, hard-to-watch movie. While it’s easy to give him credit for making the one story about the sad and lonely rich people and making it somehow work, it’s not as easy to give him credit for the Southern-fried revenge-thriller. The two are very hard movies to make, side-by-side, but somehow, he pulls it all off; both stories and compelling and also seem like they could have been their own movies.
Which is also the very same issue with Nocturnal Animals, in and of itself. For one, it takes a lot on, and handles it well, but also runs into the problem of having one story-line be fare more intriguing than the other. It happens to almost every movie with countless subplots, but here, it feels more disappointing, because they’re both very interesting to watch; it’s just that one clearly has more juice than the other.
And yes, I am talking about the Southern-fried revenge-thriller, although, it doesn’t make me happy to say that.
See, with that story, Ford is able to transport himself into far more deadly material, where anything can happen, at any given time. Just the introduction into this story, with the couple getting pulled-off to the side of the road and essentially terrorized over the course of ten minutes straight, still plays in my head, just by how truly disturbing it is. But it continues to get better and better, asking harder questions and not giving all that many answers, either.
But then, there’s the other-half of Nocturnal Animals and it’s still good, yet, also very different. It’s slower, more melodic and and far more interested in building its characters. And is it successful? Yes, but it just so happens to be placed-up, side-by-side with this other movie and it makes you wonder whether or not they should have been put that way in the first place? The book in which Tom Ford is adapting does, but I don’t know if it transitions well to the screen, where we literally have two entirely stories being told to us, with two very different styles.
So yeah, as you can tell, I’m still racking my brain around Nocturnal Animals.
If there’s anything I’m for sure certain about, it’s that Tom Ford is no fluke of a director and has, once again, put together a pretty great cast. Amy Adams gets a lot to do with very little, as the very cold and mean Susan Morrow who, through certain flashbacks, we do see develop over time and become more human to us; Jake Gyllenhaal plays her ex-husband as well as the daddy in the book very well, even if they are, two different performances, both seeming to be emotionally draining; Aaron Taylor-Johnson has always been fine in everything he’s done so far in his young career, but here, is absolutely bone-chilling and scary as the one psychopath from the story; Michael Shannon pops up as the Texas Ranger from that story and is clearly having a ball, yet also, showing off a great deal of heart and humanity in a story that, quite frankly, could have used more; and others seem to pop-up, like Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Isla Fisher, Michael Sheen, and Andrea Riseborough, and do whatever they can, but sometimes, have such limited screen-time that it’s a bit of a shame.
But hey, maybe that’s just me being extra needy.
Consensus: By working with two movies at once, Tom Ford expertly crafts Nocturnal Animals into being a dark, dramatic and sometimes disturbing emotional-thriller that may not fit perfectly together, but does offer up some really great performances.
7.5 / 10
Photos Courtesy of: Aceshowbiz, Indiewire
Great review Dan! I really enjoyed this one, although I completely agree, some parts were difficult to watch. I wonder if those early scenes were made extra long just to make us as the audience super uncomfortable!
Good review Dan! I was on the other side for this one and I really disliked well pretty much everything about it. Not what I was expecting at all to be totally honest, I just thought it was too pretentious for its own good. Great to read your thoughts from liking and appreciating it!