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Nocturnal Animals - Cinemaholic Movie Reviews
one person's obsessive addiction to film
Nocturnal Animals
Directing: A-
Acting: A
Writing: A-
Cinematography: A
Editing: A-

Tom Ford being a fashion designer turned film director makes for some interesting product, and Nocturnal Animals is a singular vision that could only come from such a man. This is Ford's follow-up to his feature debut, A Single Man (2009), which was equally as visually stunning. In both cases he served as director, writer and producer. This guy makes movies that are all him.

Well, not quite: a lot of credit must go to Director of Photography Seamus McGarvey, the Oscar-winning cinematographer of Atonement (but not on A Single Man, incidentally). Nocturnal Animals is not likely for everyone, but detractors would be hard pressed to argue that it is beautifully shot.

Consider the opening credits sequence, which is quite the attention-grabber, if not directly related to the rest of the film: it fades in on older, overweight women dancing naked, with confidence and even joy. It's something every man in America should have to see. And every woman too, although for different reasons. It's inspired, and provocative in a way that underscores how sad it is that seeing naked fat women is provocative.

Soon enough, we discover that these clips are part of an art gallery opening, the owner of which is Susan, played by Amy Adams in what could arguably be called the best performance of her career. That sounds like hyperbole, but her skill on display is so deeply affecting it borders on astonishing. Susan is a very troubled, sad woman. She receives a manuscript for a novel written by her ex-husband, the title of which is Nocturnal Animals -- also apparently what Edward used to call her when they were married, because of her insomnia.

With her current husband (Armie Hammer, here just used to be blandly handsome arm candy for Susan) away on a business trip, Susan spends the night reading this book, and Tom Ford switches to the book's narrative, its main character Tony Hastings played by Jake Gyllenhaal. And here we get a story within a story, but in a very different way from what we're used to with layered narratives like this: in this case, the book Susan is reading is clearly linked to, or a message about, the "brutal" (her own word) way in which Susan left Edward, her first husband -- who is also played by Gyllenhaal in several flashback scenes.

Some critics have called Nocturnal Animals "a mess," and I can see how some might come to that conclusion, but I didn't see it that way. There's nothing difficult to follow here, and the parallel narratives between Susan's real life and that of the book she's reading are cleverly linked. If I had any complaint, it would be the way the book's police officer (played with some uncharacteristic comedy by a characteristically stoic Michael Shannon) approaches Tony's case. I don't want to spoil anything about what happens to Tony and his wife and daughter in the book, but suffice it to say that it ultimately involves revenge, and the cop taking the victim along for unorthodox ways to question perpetrators is a little odd.

But, whatever. There's something very specific about both the tone and the delivery of Nocturnal Animals that makes it surprisingly compelling. Sometimes inconveniently so, as there's a couple of moments where the film suddenly feels a little like horror. There's at least one jump-scare that nearly made me shit my pants, anyway. But beyond that, there's a lot more depth to these characters than it seems on the surface. It makes for the rare movie that feels like it would gain greater appreciation upon repeat viewings, in spite of it being about miserable people.

It certainly doesn't hurt that practically every frame is a work of art in its own right. I would recommend Nocturnal Animals on the strength of its cinematography, production and costume design alone. But Tom Ford should not be sold short as a guy who merely makes films packed with indelible images. He gets Oscar-caliber performances out of his actors, and gives a kind of depth to his stories that veers close to unsettling. Tom Ford's fashion design background is clearly evident in his cinematic work, but he also clearly knows what he's doing. Even if he continues to make movies only once every seven years, if they are all on par with this, then it will always be worth the wait.

Amy Adams engages in titular contemplation in NOCTURNAL ANIMALS.

Overall: A-
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