Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon
Director: Tom Ford
Running Time: 116 mins
Nocturnal Animals is an American film about a woman who begins reading a book written for and sent to her by her ex-husband, however its graphic and violent events begin to deeply unsettle her as its parallels with her past relationship become apparent.
This is an absolutely mesmerising film. Kicking off with an electric first act, it retains a brutal and totally bizarre atmosphere right up to the end, making for a hugely unnerving and completely unpredictable watch. With excellent performances, beautiful directing and amazing writing, Nocturnal Animals is an immensely intelligent film, and one that will keep you thinking at every moment.
But before we get into the best parts of the movie, I think it’s important to stress that this is the sort of film that will get better the more times you watch it. I’ve only seen it once, and it’s pretty exceptional then, but there are so many fascinating twists and turns that change your perspective of earlier events, meaning that upon rewatching it, you can have a totally different and even more engrossing experience.
That said, even on first viewing, Nocturnal Animals is a film that can be watched and interpreted in endless ways. Its structure is the key to why it’s such an enigma, as we watch three stories unfold in a non-linear fashion. First, in the present, we have Amy Adams’ character reading her ex-husband’s story. Then there’s the events that happen in the story, which take up the majority of the film’s runtime. Thirdly, there are various flashbacks that recount Amy Adams’ and Jake Gyllenhaal’s characters’ previous relationship, giving context to the unsettling feeling she is overcome by in the present.
As a result, the film can be fiercely complex, and a real challenge for anyone to fully understand and pick apart on first viewing. However, I want to briefly talk about the three stories separately.
By far the most engrossing and entertaining part of the film is the story that unfolds in the ex-husband’s book. Kicking off with one of the most harrowing and distressing scenes I’ve seen in a long time, it continues to build as we watch Jake Gyllenhaal’s character navigate his way through the aftermath of a horrific crime, turning into both a gritty and intense thriller as well as a fascinating and completely unpredictable mystery.
It’s pretty heavy-going as far as the graphic violence and raw emotion goes, but this is technically the simplest story of the movie, which you can watch and love even if you take it on face value.
Then there’s the story about Amy Adams’ character in the present, reading the book. Her character is a strong-willed and quite intense art gallery owner, a side of her which we see on numerous occasions. However, the way that that’s contrasted by some of her reactions to the book, and the subsequent reminiscing of her past relationship, is fascinating to see, something that Amy Adams pulls off brilliantly.
As for the third part of the story, the flashbacks of the past relationship, it wasn’t quite as fascinating and engrossing as the two other stories, particularly as I was so enthralled by the story in the book, however it does provide important context to understand present-day Amy Adams’ emotions and actions, and would surely be far more intriguing when you rewatch the film.
On the whole, the stories in the film are fascinating, and make for both an entertaining yet simultaneously terrifying watch. The overall story is incredibly brutal, both in terms of graphic violence and emotions, but it’s almost intoxicating to watch unfold.
Stories within a story are notoriously hard to pull off, and that’s why Tom Ford, who both directed and wrote the screenplay for the film, deserves so much credit. Apart from giving Nocturnal Animals a bizarre and unnerving yet incredibly stylish vibe, the way he manages to balance the three parts of the overall story so well, with never a dull moment, and still make the film so confusing and complex right to the last moment, is exceptional, and possibly the best I’ve ever seen someone manage the feat.
Ford’s direction is incredibly memorable, bringing both an emotionally cold and intense vibe to different parts of the film, all the while tying together the three different stories in some very unique and interesting ways. He also manages to get some amazing performances out of the lead actors, mostly from Jake Gyllenhaal, who pulls off a stunning range from start to finish, but also from Amy Adams, who puts in yet another unorthodox performance, and even the film’s supporting actors, Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, both of whom are mesmerising to watch, making even the film’s smaller characters utterly fascinating.
Overall, Nocturnal Animals is a simply brilliant film. It’s difficult, complex and confusing, and I certainly can’t claim to have fully understood all of its ideas and themes on first viewing. However, its memorable, unique and intoxicating style made it an enthralling watch from start to finish, full of completely unpredictable twists and turns played across three different stories that are expertly brought together by Tom Ford to finish up with such a smooth, confident and unforgettable film, which is why I’m giving it an 8.8.