Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals

I have had quite week to say the least. Thanks to Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and everyone that ordered something online, I worked 11 hours for five days straight putting things in boxes. I now know what it is like to work in an assembly line: it sucks ass. However, a job is a job and I have to do it if I am going to get anywhere in life. Returning to the theater after such a strenuous period was immensely forgiving. I know one of my friends mentioned Moana, but I grew out of Pixar movies a long time ago. Instead, I saw a film made by fashion designer Tom Ford.

In the midst of insomnia Susan, played by Amy Adams, reads a novel written by her ex-husband Edward, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. As she goes through the pages, she comes to terms with how the story reflects their tumultuous past.

As I have said many times, though all stories are the same, what makes them different is how they are told. You can have an ordinary crime procedural, but throw in some science fiction you gain a better chance of standing out. That is why no one confuses Ghost in the Shell with Law And Order, or Spartacus with Game of Thrones, or Doom (2016) with Call of Duty.

Nocturnal Animals is a story you have heard before, but the way it is made and told sets it apart from the norm. Like Neon Demon it is simple, but complicated with visuals and story choices that play into the underling themes. While I do not want to give the whole thing away, the movie is a romantic tragedy in the guise of an art-house thriller. A third of the story is Edward’s novel playing out in an adaptation as Susan reacts to it. As the inspiration for the novel, she notices hints to her past with Edward with accompanying flashbacks. Without them, a lot of symbolism would have been lost on me.

As a visual film, the actual imagery is nothing to cry home about. Everything look beautiful, yet none of it really struck me with awe. For the most part it looks like a rather normal movie that was put together with the precision of an auteur. Ford obviously knows what he is doing, but compared to Denis Villeneuve and Nicholas Winding Refn, he has a long way to go. The real strength of Nocturnal Animals is the performances.

Adams and Gyllenhaal were great, but Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson stole the show. Taylor-Johnson in particular makes a dramatic turn as the subtle psychopath Ray. He is as mysterious in motivation as blunt in action and he sells the hell out of it. I did not even recognize him at first. In the case of Shannon, I am quite biased because I like him in just about everything. I wrote my Punisher script with him in mind because he is absolutely out of his mind. He blends into his character Bobby, a lawman in a West Texas town whose honesty makes him both a hazard and a joy to watch. I would say he is the best part if Taylor-Johnson did not work his heart out.

I am sure there is a lot more I could say about Nocturnal Animals. On the surface it appears to be extremely simple, but I have a feeling there is much I am missing. Based on my first impressions, it works as an alternative to typical romantic tragedies thanks to the art house aesthetic and thriller angle. It is something you have seen before in a unique package and I recommend buying a ticket if it is playing near you.

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