Nocturnal Animals follows a woman running an art exhibit who receives a manuscript from her ex-husband that depicts a grieving man following the rape and murder of his wife and daughter. As she reads the story, she starts to feel her own life begin to crumble along with the man in the story.
The film begins with a very unsettling (and by unsettling I mean disgusting) opening title sequence featuring very fat, sagging, and old women jumping around as if they think they’re hot. I get it’s supposed to be artistic, but in all reality it’s nauseating. So unless you can stomach that I suggest skipping the opening credits. Anyway, once the movie I started I was totally hooked with this movie. There are essentially three stories at hand here. The primary one involving the lead female played by Amy Adams, the story she reads by her ex, and the story from the past of her and her ex. There are some pretty clear parallels amongst the three stories, but in all reality, the story that Adams character reads is much more engaging than the other two up until they all come full circle by the end. In the current time we see Adams struggling with her place in life as far as her job, marriage, and in general herself. The story she’s reading shows is brutal, disturbing, and a more intense take on the usual revenge tale. The man is on a road trip with his wife and daughter when they become harassed on the road by a group of thugs. When they get ran off of the road and what soon follows is so horrific and unsettling that it beats most horror films. The first half of this particular story reminds of the kind of frightening cases you would see on Unsolved Mysteries. In the back of my mind I had the chilling music the show would play during the reenacted cases. It really is a huge punch in the gut once the man comes upon his wife and daughter after they get taken. From there it’s about him trying to bring justice upon those involved. The other is a flashback of Adams’ that shows the beginning and quick downfall of her marriage to Jake Gyllenhaal’s character. There’s much to be said about each of these stories but to say more would take away a lot of the intriguing elements of the movie and seeing them all come into play by the end. While I do wish there were more engaging aspects in the outer two stories, it’s not entirely a deal breaker. The ending is one that is left open-ended. So for those of you don’t like “open to interpretation” endings, you may want to pass on this one. I don’t mind these types of endings, but this one was a bit TOO open and abrupt for my taste. I feel like I wanted a little bit more to go by in order to really interpret an ending. I have my ideas, but there are a few more loose strings I wish would have been tied and a certain pieces to fall into place. Maybe even the ending to go at least five minutes longer. There very well may be some who thought they had just enough. Well good for you, but not everyone has your gifted abilities to pick up on metaphors and symbolism on the tip of a hat. That said, it does leave you with plenty of room to have discussions about it with others. The direction by Tom Ford is solid and he does a fine job of making it not seems all over the place despite the overlapping stories involved.
Amy Adams does well-enough with this role. She interprets the character’s struggle with great clarity and pretty realistically (even if I did find her character a pretty horrible person). But most of the movie is just her sitting around pondering her thoughts and having pretty intense reactions to the book she’s reading. Adams may have gotten top billing, but this movie is by and far Jake Gyllenhaal’s in my personal favorite performance of his after Nightcrawler. Gyllenhaal plays two different characters. The ex-husband of Adams who is a sweet, sensitive, wannabe writer who may be too sweet and sensitive for his own good. The other role he plays is the husband/father in the story whom Adams’ envisions as she reads. There’s not entirely much to show for in his “reality role” until we get to the initial scene that leads to the downfall of the two characters’ marriage and we basically see this nice guys’ spirit broken by words from his wife (and it only gets broken more after that). But it’s Gyllenhaal’s gritty portrayal as the troubled and vengeful husband in the story that boasts some of his best work yet. Gyllenhaal greatly shows this character’s gradual transition from happy family man to broken man to angry and borderline deranged man. Also worth noting is Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays the very creepy but also disgusting lead thug to destroys the fictional Gyllenhaal’s wife. Seriously, the guy is very disgusting looking, exhibits disgusting behavior, but in the big highway scene at the start of the story he is very intimidating and not someone you’d want to be stranded on a highway with. Oh, and we finally get Michael Shannon (whom also turns in another solid performance as the cop assisting the fictional Gyllenhaal) playing a non-villainous character! But he still keeps his deadpan humor.
While Nocturnal Animals is very engaging, there are some weak points that could have been improved on, more to do for Amy Adams, and an ending that could have offered a little more. But it also boasts top-notch performances from Gyllenhaal, Taylor-Johnson, and Shannon. Add in solid direction from Tom Ford. If you’re into more sharp films that require quite a bit of thought you’ll enjoy this one.