Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Nocturnal Animals



Tom Ford


Tom Ford (Novel: Austin Wright)


116 min.


Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Karl Glusman, Robert Aramayo, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, India Menuez, Imogen Waterhouse, Jena Malone

MPAA Rating

R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language

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Art and reality become dizzyingly intertwined in Nocturnal Animals, a breathtaking and gripping character study about love, divorce, vengeance, and self-recrimination.

Tom Ford’s haunting drama tells two parallel stories, one is that of an art gallery director (Amy Adams) who must come to terms with the growing distance between her and her husband (Armie Hammer), the mistakes she made with her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal), and the financial instability of her home life.

This is contrasted with her ex-husband’s novel about a family harassed on a dark, deserted highway that leads to murder and self-recrimination. In Adams’ vivid re-enactments of what she’s reading, the husband and father is played by Gyllenhaal while the investigator who’s trying to help him bring the men who attacked his family to justice is played by Michael Shannon.

As each story is untangled, the emotional heft of Gyllenhaal’s violent melancholy play out within the novel Adams imagines in her own mind. As Adams confronts her own complicity in the collapse of their relationship, the parallels with her current husband begin to unfold such that as Gyllenhaal’s psyche begins to mend, Adams’ begins to unravel. While Adams begins to rationalize her own failings, Gyllenhaal’s absolution is not delivered. While it seems clear he feels that the air has been cleared, his psychological warfare has done little more than clarify his own complicity in the marital collapse even if he should never realize it.

Based on a novel by Austin Wright, Ford’s twisted adaptation gives Adams and Gyllenhaal a brilliant vehicle for their superb performances. The compelling narrative tickles the imagination with the kind of fierce inventiveness that dominated Paul Thomas Anderson’s early work. Ford, no stranger to eliciting terrific performances, helps coax marvelous depth out of both actors at the heights of their respective careers.

Ford, following up on his stellar debut A Simple Man seven years earlier, displays a masterful eye for color, balance, and structure delivering a sometimes lurid and frequently visceral series of images that require the audience to focus their attention on psychological upheaval within the minds of its characters. Aided immeasurably by Abel Korzeniowski’s riveting score, this film feels as tense and moody as its haunted protagonist.

Nocturnal Animals is frightening in its intensity. That the novel at the heart of the film is terrifyingly realistic gives support to the somewhat more embellished primary storyline. This is a piece of art by a filmmaker working at the pinnacle of his own artistic expression.

Review Written

July 9, 2019

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