You can’t beat two movies for the price of one. Especially when they’re within one, are gorgeous and dark, and have the brilliant Jake Gyllenhaal. “Nocturnal Animals” is that movie.
In “Nocturnal Animals,” Gyllenhaal plays Edward. He’s a romantic writer who sends his ex-wife Susan (Amy Adams) a manuscript of his new novel. It’s a dark and violent novel, which the troubled Susan interprets as a threat on her life.
In “Nocturnal Animals,” Gyllenhaal also plays Tony, the novel’s protagonist. He finds himself in a brutal game of cat-and-mouse with a deranged serial killer (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who murders Tony’s wife and daughter. A seasoned detective (Michael Shannon) takes pity on Tony and helps him seek revenge.
“Nocturnal Animals” is an ambitious, twisted, and beautiful psychological thriller from fashion designer Tom Ford. The movie has Ford’s name all over it, due to the glamorous costumes and mise-en-scene. Ford also demonstrates an impressive knowledge of the Southern Gothic and Film Noir genres within Tony’s story.
Tony’s story is unsettling to watch. We see a timid, naive family man go over the edge when his family is taken from him. Taylor-Johnson’s Ray is a villain from a Flannery O’Connor story. He’s trashy, yet charismatic. Shannon’s Detective Andes is the scene stealer. He’s a dying detective who no longer cares about the law, but rather his own justice.
Susan and Edward’s story is a tragic melodrama, reminiscent of “Blue Valentine.” We see they were a passionate young couple that tore themselves apart due to their egos and ambitions. Sadly, for a story about someone interpreting a book as a threat, there isn’t much intensity.
All of Susan’s reading scenes are redundant. She cringes, rubs her eyes together, and pours a drink. But she doesn’t once lock her door or buy a gun. The cinematography doesn’t even hint at any danger.
There are also a few solid supporting actors in Susan’s story, including Michael Sheen, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, and Jena Malone, but they all well-dressed exposition tools to help us understand Susan’s misery.
Gyllenhaal easily has the best performance, playing two different characters with things in common. Both Tony and Edward are handsome romantics, who lose everything they love and handle it in a dark manner.
Ford has an eye for detail, and it shows in both segments. If you pay close attention to Susan’s appearance, a parked car in the background of Edward and Susan’s main confrontation, and Edward’s back story, these are all carried over to Tony’s story. It’s subtle.
I admired “Nocturnal Animals” for its duality. Sure, it’s uneven, but that’s forgivable.
Grade (Tony’s story): A
Grade (Susan and Edward’s story): C
Grade (overall): B