Released December 9th
Nocturnal Animals is a dark psychological thriller – extremely dark in fact. On the surface the story is about an upscale art gallery curator, “Susan” (Amy Adams) and her ex-husband “Tony”, a struggling writer (Jake Gyllenhaal). The story is told in the form of a novel embedded within the action. Amy Adams, Michael Shannon and Armie Hammer shine, as does Aaron Taylor-Johnson. The scenes of a novel that Tony has written as a gift to Susan play out within the story as she reads it. This book is a tale of revenge, fast-paced, emotional and violent. In the film it becomes a counterpoint to the scenes of the “real lives” of the central characters, which seem static and starved of passion. The low-key scenes of “reality” interrupt the fervent fast pace of the chapters of the novel. The rhythm keeps suddenly changing – an interesting interplay of styles formulated by the director, designer Tom Ford. It was however somewhat jarring to me.
The sound track is classic ‘40’s or 50’s film noir style in genre. The production design – the lavish yet cold as ice interiors and shot choices are rich and delicious. Director Ford, a fashion icon, lends his genius to the medium of film in the design of the sets and location choices. The camera work, especially the close-ups of the faces, is striking. The movie begins with some very off-the-wall film clips of zaftig women parading and dancing, almost completely nude, as part of an art opening exhibition. These opening scenes set a style. However, their startling quality is not revisited in the story of the main character played by Adams, who has curated this exhibition. It seems thrown in for effect rather than having a pivotal meaning for the story. It should have been more obvious that this was a hidden aspect of her personality.
I found the most fascinating character to be “Ray Marcus” – a dangerous West Texas outlaw played beautifully by British actor Taylor-Johnson. He is able to communicate the genuine humanity behind the eyes of this killer. This character is not simply a dead-eyed purveyor of evil. Taylor-Johnson related to the audience in a Q&A after the screening that he had done extensive research on serial killers such as Jeffrey Dahmer and Ted Bundy to gain insight for his performance. He found these serial killers to have a disconnect between their own humanity and their deeds. This disconnect allows them to seem genuinely decent as they lure innocents to their lair. The “disconnect” is what confuses and deflects their victims’ instincts. This is one of the best portrayals of a killer I’ve seen. You may actually catch yourself growing to like this quintessentially heinous character.
I wish the story had been more intricately woven to show more depth in the main characters. That said, Nocturnal Animals is worth seeing for its color and the depth of the visuals, and for Taylor-Johnson’s performance.
Kathryn Whitney Boole has spent most of her life in the entertainment industry, which is the backdrop for remarkable adventures with extraordinary people. She is a Talent Manager with Studio Talent Group in Santa Monica. firstname.lastname@example.org. For previously published reviews see https://kwboole.wordpress.com