Movie Review: “Nocturnal Animals”

Nocturnal Animals

“Nocturnal Animals” – a film review by Gary Chew

Director Tom Ford’s second movie might be as good as his first. That’s saying a lot because A Single Man (2009) was an excellent debut for a guy who’s more into Yves Saint Laurent and Gucci than, it seems, directing a motion picture. That initial Ford try took an Oscar nomination. Ford brings all that’s savvy about fashion, urbane glitz and high-dollar art to a sharper focus in this latest effort. As Tommy Lee Jones might say, the title sure did get my attention: Nocturnal Animals.

Nocturnal AnimalsWhat’s was a real kick for me seeing it is Ford’s amazing shifting of gears in terms of culture venues his script takes you to. One minute, you’re in Los Angeles, up high in the hills where money is more than merely king; then with a mere cut of a frame, Ford suddenly has you isolated in the moonless dark of a West Texas desert. You’re on a skinny highway going across the middle of nowhere with a family of three. On the way to Marfa the family becomes terrorized by crazies speeding along in a bunged up car you’d swear is probably being driven by Dennis Hopper’s character in Blue Velvet.

When Ford shifts to the rural landscape, I thought I might be looking at film created by David Lynch or the Coen brothers. That Anton Chigurh might be in the backseat of the crazies’ heap would’ve played quite well. Javier Bardem could’ve restated his icy, infamous line, “Get out of the car, please.”

Amy Adams is Susan, a woman who’s gained much success in the art biz. She married to a handsome fellow named Hutton. He’s cheating on her as he tries to keep his business afloat. Armie Hammer has that duty. Susan was divorced from her first husband a couple of decades earlier. Jake Gyllenhaal is the ex: Edward’s a romantic and a writer. They’ve not seen each other in years. Right out of the blue, Edward sends Susan the manuscript of his new work. And don’t you know the title of it is Nocturnal Animals? Edward is seeking her opinion.

Nocturnal AnimalsEdward was pushed out by Susan as she had come to the conclusion that they were not a good match. He wasn’t happy about that. Susan took the position that his attitude was too malleable. Her current story and the conflict with Susan’s present spouse, given at the outset, begin to take turns with Edward’s new book. Yes, Susan wants to avoid the hurt and hassle with Hutton … so a story by her first husband seems like a good way to put Hutton and the woman he’s with in New York City out of mind. She turns to Edward’s first chapter. You can call it the “Old Story Inside Another Story” trick.

Some surprises pop up in the narrative she’s reading. First, Edward is also played by Gyllenhaal. His name is Tony. He’s married, and has a teenage daughter. Surprise number two is Michael Shannon, who does the role of a modern day Texas lawman folks know in his neck of the woods as Bobby. This character is so Coen Brothers-ish. Bobby is the cop who’s on the trail for Tony to find the nocturnal dirt bags who’ve done a world of harm on a deserted strip of West Texas asphalt. The dirt bags aren’t Hopper or Bardem, but they’re as bad … if not badder. Aaron Taylor-Johnson wears the “badge” that says he’s the bad guys’ boss man. He’s really a good, uh, bad guy. No problem disliking this dude.

What comes out of all this would be a crime to say. Just know that Susan comes face to face with some very dark, unsettling truths about herself and more so about Edward.

If it’s deceit, revenge and guilt you go for in a movie. This one’s for you. On reflection, I realize I got many of the same vibes from Nocturnal Animals that I felt when seeing Body Heat way back in 1981 with William Hurt and Kathleen Turner.

I say this animal is one of the best of the year, and for sure in its genre.

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Gary Chew
Gary Chew was a classical music host, programmer and producer on Capital Public Radio’s KXPR 88.9FM, Sacramento for 18 years. He retired in January 2007. Read more about Gary's long and storied career here.