Nocturnal Animals (Movie Review)

Nocturnal Animals (Movie Review)
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PLOT: Years after divorcing her first husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript from him that shakes her to the core and forces her to reevaluate the choices made in her life.

REVIEW: Seven years is no bad luck for a keen-eyed fashion designer turned meticulous filmmaker, Tom Ford arrestingly attests in his new high-art-pulp-fiction thriller NOCTURNAL ANIMALS. Indeed, if his 2009 feature debut A SINGLE MAN was about mourning the death of a loved one, his new film is a cleverly framed lamentation on the loss of a loved one, and the evilly expressive retribution therein. Adapted by Ford from the Austin Wright novel Susan and Tony, the movie is dichotomized into a story within a story, the first taking place in the cold, ritzy-glitzy high-brow art culture of NYC, the other in a seedy and sweaty stretch of Texan highway and back-roads where rape and murder occur. With a sharply redesigned storytelling structure, the film is expertly architected, beauteously shot, grippingly acted and splendidly edited. Do wise and prey on NOCTURNAL ANIMALS when it opens wider next month, as it's not only one of the best genre pieces of the year, it's a deeply duplicitous and deliciously diabolical tale of metaphorical recompense!

Susan Morrow runs a successful art gallery in New York. As the film opens, we sense a widening chasm of infidelity between her and her second husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer), despite the lavish lifestyle the two have forged together. Left alone for the weekend, insomniac Susan receives a manuscript in the mail entitled Nocturnal Animals. It was written by Susan's first husband, Edward, a budding novelist and U.T. English professor whom she cruelly abandoned in disbelief of his profession. She lost faith in his ability to write and provide a fruitful life for the two. Now that she has it all, she's just as unhappy. Perhaps more so. As she huddles in bed and peels back the first page of Edward's new novel, we're transported to a deserted Texan highway in a fictionalized tale involving Edward (renamed Tony, also played by Gyllenhaal), Susan (now played by Isla Fisher) and their daughter India (Ellie Bamber). As they burn down the highway at night, the family is soon run off the road by a trio of wild redneck terrorists - Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Lou (Karl Glusman) and Turk (Roberto Aramayo) - who abduct the two females and leave Tony left for dead out in the brush.

Along to help Tony is a man named Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), a terminal cancer-stricken lawman with no real moral compass to guide his seemingly sole enforcement of law and order. With a year or so left to live, Andes vows to aide Tony in restoring his manhood by serving vigilante-style comeuppance to the three assailants who utterly violated his family and left the man emotionally bankrupt. The scenes between Shannon and Gyllenhaal are among the strongest in the film, the former no-nonsensically brusque but vulnerable, the latter pensive and sensitive, both showing in way we've never quite seen either. Not to betray just how the two go about exacting brutal payback, what plays out in the story within a story in effect serves as a vengefully grand and malicious metaphor for Susan's marital malfeasance. That is, Edward writes a story that allows Susan to feel the very sense of loss, grief, horror and heartbreak that she incurred on him through their nasty divorce. He emotionally eviscerates his ex-wife through artistic expression, made all the more cathartic when, consumed by the novel, her disbelief in his writing ability is devastatingly disproven.

In addition to the splendid fusion of high-art and low-brow pulp fiction, aside from the tremendous performances, gorgeous photography and rivetingly violent action, the real star of the movie might be the fresh restructure Ford has mounted his story to. The way in which he fluidly crosscuts and weaves in and out of the past, present, reality and fiction is expertly achieved and highly entertaining throughout. What's more, there's a pulse-pounding intensity to the accelerated editing style that, as the movie goes, shortens and speeds up the marriage of competing narratives until they all unify and hurl toward one soul-shattering conclusion. The heart-racing tension created by using this framing device and ramped-up editing choice is first rate. And while there is a subplot that slyly equates women's choice with murder, one I can't quite cotton to politically, I definitely admire Ford's subversive attempt to subtly foist his viewpoint under the aegis of a major studio thriller. Just as the story cleaves in two, so too has Ford's feats. He's made a statement as well as a top-notch piece of entertainment.

The only qualms about the film I can point to include a dubiously disturbing title sequence, and one insipid LIGHTS OUT style jump-scare that had no germane business belonging in this story (unless perhaps a semi-somnolent dream sequence). Other than that, go see NOCTURNAL ANIMALS as soon as you get the chance. It's at once a classy and kitschy, extremely engrossing and agitating allegory for mortifying loss, grief, bewilderment...as well as a uniquely framed salvo of vengeance on its behalf. If you dig the high and low-brow mélange of expertly crafted movies like GONE GIRL, EYES WIDE SHUT, even THE NEON DEMON to a lesser extent, then by all means do yourself a favor and roll around in the dirt with NOCTURNAL ANIMALS when it opens wide December 9th. After all, it proves that indeed...the freaks come out at night!

Extra Tidbit: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS hits select theaters November 18th before opening wider December 9th.
Source: AITH



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