Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Jena Malone
To say that fashion designer Tom Ford has grown as a filmmaker since A Single Man (2009) would be a dangerous understatement. Ford delivers a masterful thriller adapting Austin Wright’s “Tony & Susan” into not just one of the best films of the year, but an infectious presentation of art and noir. Nocturnal Animals is many things; It’s a glorious exercise in noir filmmaking, throwing back to the days of glamour, shadows and nuance. It’s also a brutal and unforgiving thriller with four sensational performances that are among the years finest. It’s hard to find anything about this film that isn’t near perfect, from the devastating original score by Abel Korzeniowski (W.E., A Single Man) to the impeccable makeup. Whoever thinks Ford doesn’t understand the world or art of cinema is misinformed. Ford is a true auteur, carving his own path of originality as he discovers it.
“Our world is a lot less painful than the real one,” Carlos (Sheen) says. He tries to comfort discouraged friend Susan Morrow who is a high-end Los Angeles art dealer. Her failed marriage to high school crush Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal) keeps her up at night, so does her current husband (Hammer) and his sneaky behavior. Susan receives a rough draft of Edward’s novel he has been working on since their marriage. With great hesitation, she begins his story, which is frighteningly dedicated to her. Inside she finds a violent fiction, a man dealing with tremendous pain and suffering. Susan begins to relieve how she arrived at this point in her life, the more she reads the more her conscious suffers.
A brutal and unforgiving thriller with four sensational performances that are among the years finest.
Nocturnal Animals has the most “patriotic” intro of the year, intended for both shock value and Ford’s own subjective commentary on American lifestyle. Ford intentionally and meticulously serves graphic dialogue and imagery, both sexual and violent in nature to make the viewer uncomfortable. Ford has a great appetite for the juxtaposition of beauty and disgust. Nocturnal Animals could be a cousin of Nicolas Winding Refn’s Drive the way is toys with the audience, the sophistication of the technical elements combined with such brutal subject matter. To call this film stylish or stylized would be another major understatement. Every corner of the film from Adams’ pristine hair, to Johnson’s fecal matter finger nails, details are priority here, whether you catch them or not. There hasn’t been a film this year, that as soon as the credits came up, I wanted to re-watch the entire thing immediately. Nocturnal Animals is not intended for mainstream audiences, the easily offended, or those with delicate sensibilities.
In my experience, most films that have such immense dedication to technical elements fall short on either performances or narrative. Nocturnal Animals defies this notion, across the board and filmmaking departments, everything is sensational. Amy Adams exhibit’s her range this year with both Arrival and here as Susan, the performances couldn’t be more different. I don’t call Gyllenhaal’s performance here his best lightly. An actor who consistently seeks out somewhat demented roles, this is a pulse pounding, vein popping change of direction for him. He delivers one of the best performances of 2016. Michael Shannon (Take Shelter, Man of Steel), a strong supporting actor contender, takes Jeff Bridges gruff West Texas law enforcement role in Hell or High Water and puts a wild eyed spin on it. Johnson (KickAss, Avengers Age of Ultron) also gives the best performance in his continually evolving career. It only takes one scene for Oscar nominee Laura Linney (Kinsey, Mystic River) to make her mark, as she aces the aged Texas society debutant. One of Ford’s many brilliant decisions here is casting Isla Fisher (forever known as Amy Adam’s look-a-like) as her fictional alter ego.
A glorious, bewildering, immersive masterpiece of style, art, and performance.