There’s no right or wrong way to review Nocturnal Animals. That’s the challenge posed by Tom Ford’s enlightened and tough-going narrative. His film touches upon love, obsession, creativity, regrets, belonging and revenge. These form important building blocks on the pyramid.
Art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) rarely sleeps due to stresses in her work and personal life. Years ago, she left her first husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) because she wasn’t happy. Now she’s got everything… and guess what? That’s right, she remains unfulfilled.
If that was all Nocturnal Animals had to offer then this would be a terse and disturbingly negative précis. Yet the turning point arrives via a secondary plot. When Susan receives an early version of Edward’s new novel Nocturnal Animals, her perspective on their once floundering relationship completely alters. The book’s violent and emotional content strikes a chord that echoes deeper home-truths.
The place to begin when examining this extraordinary film must be the performances. Despite relatively brief turns from Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen and Armie Hammer, there’s tremendous depth of feeling and psychological heft to the lead ensemble. In particular, Adams’ complicated whirlwind of mood swings and jagged edges represents a new phase in her career. Her brave, uncompromising work in Nocturnal Animals seems a galaxy away from her breakout, Oscar-nominated role in Junebug.
I assume that most people have experienced insomnia. Beyond this basic need for rest, Susan’s character truly grows. Even if said growth occurs internally, her reactions to the prose reveals pain and loss of direction. Sometimes, loneliness can be a human trait only tempered by the company of a good book.
Meanwhile, Michael Shannon plays Bobby, the fictional detective helping the book’s protagonist solve a terrible mystery. For playing this chain-smoking, world-weary chap, Shannon deserves all kinds of praise and awards attention. Above all, the line between actor and script frequently blurs, allowing the personal space of one to inform the actions of the other. As such, his work brims with touching emphasis. Most importantly, the ability to empathise -- no matter the situation or heartbreak -- allows Nocturnal Animals room for manoeuvrability beyond cinematic boundaries.
(Released by Focus Features and rated "R" for violence, menace, graphic nudity and language.)