"Nocturnal Animals" Film Review
By: Nathaniel Simpson
"Nocturnal Animals" was perhaps one of the most interesting and bizarre films released in 2016. However, thanks to the brilliant direction from Tom Ford, the movie works perfectly to tell the haunting tale of Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), as she reads a terrifying manuscript sent to her by ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). The film then perfectly balances the events of Susan's story with that of the manuscript she reads, keeping the viewers on the edge of their seat throughout the film.
The film is graphic in its depictions of rape and torture, yet we never truly see it on screen. We see the aftermath of what happened, leaving us to use our imagination about what happened to the women in the manuscript Susan is reading. I think this makes the depiction of rape and torture worse as we have to visualize what happened by ourselves, without the film showing or telling us what went down that night.
This is mainly due to the beautiful and chilling cinematography. Take the scene, for instance, where Tony, the main character in the novel and also played by Gyllenhaal, finds his dead daughter and wife, lying next to one another naked. We know they are dead, but the scene is so hauntingly shot on film that it makes the viewer's stomach turn just watching it.
But, a great thing about the cinematography is how this is what Susan is envisioning when reading the novel. Everything we see about the manuscript comes from Susan's mind, and how she interprets the novel. We have that bias from the narrator, so someone else reading the novel could take it a much different way than her. Why is that? Edward has based the characters off of himself and Susan, as well as their daughter, and she knows this. That's why she feels personally attacked and scared by the novel, and this is why the cinematography works so perfectly.
Alongside that, the acting performances in this film are stellar, especially those of Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon, who plays Bobby Andes in Edward's manuscript. They have great chemistry together on screen. Shannon does a good job of stealing the scene whenever he is present in the film, but it's ultimately Gyllenhaal's fantastic performance that really drives the scenes home. He is wonderful at portraying both Edward and Tony, who are two totally opposite characters. It's like Tony is this character that Edward wants to be, even though Edward is a much better person than Tony.
Adams also does give a great performance, making her this cold, heartless individual. She wants to be a good person in the world, but only cares about herself, leaving her unhappy and unfulfilled in life. She has no real purpose in anything she does, and thinks of herself as a more superior person to Edward.
However, the film's finale proves Susan wrong, as it is a satisfying ending to the film as a whole. There is that payoff that makes the viewer feel bittersweet about the whole film and the characters inside it. In my opinion, this is perhaps one of the best thriller films to have come out in recent years, and I'm excited to see what Ford does next in the film business.