I remember hearing hype for this movie as early as summer of 2016, and here we are, many months after the fact, with me checking out the home release of “Nocturnal Animals”. Directed by the newcomer of Tom Ford, it really did spark a lot of interest, but has that held up?
Led by Amy Adams (who’s career is really hitting form) and Jake Gyllenhaal, this is a “story within a story” as an art gallery owner receives a script from her ex-husband which he wants her to read and provide insight upon. Her feelings towards their breakup are mixed, and with her new husband spending a lot of time away on business trips (Armie Hammer), she takes it on. But the story brings up her old relationship in a raw and unforgiving manner, one which she has to now come to terms with.
This is a method of storytelling that almost all of you will be familiar with, one that has you drawing similarities between the central, and secondary narrative. It is one that when executed correctly, doesn’t so much as give double the content, but double the context. You have more information to consider and think about. In this movie, the central theme is that the real world is mundane and dull, and only in the writing can the gripping, emotional lives truly be found.
And that is certainly how the movie is constructed in an initially odd way. Everything to do between the character of Amy Adams and her new wife feels… so plain. Her trips to the art gallery, the conversations with her husband and others, they are all stripped of real emotive. Only upon the end did I realise what was being intended with that. It is a polar opposite to the feel of the world generated within the script and let’s be fair – the world within books is certainly a bit more lively than dropping into the cafe every lunchtime.
The story within the script is like something pulled out of a 70’s redneck Horror film, mixed with some Southern Noir. A man’s wife and daughter are kidnapped while they’re harassed off of the road by a group of men, and follows his struggle to find them with the aid of the local Detective. In a complete change to the primary story, it is full of clashing emotions and intrigue – it is by far the most interesting half of this narrative. even by the time the end was coming along, I was still kind of guessing as to where it was going to go, when were were telegraphed earlier on that the ex-husband had something pretty horrid done to him by his former wife. Michael Shannon is quite good as the Detective, with an interesting setup to his back story and progression right to the end.
Here’s the thing however… when you take these two halves and try to fit them together in a way that seems pleasing to the viewer, it is quite difficult. The primary narrative was just too bland for me to care all that much for it, even when the big reveal is made near the end. It is not to say the performances weren’t bad or whatever, ore that it was detached in a way that had me struggling to find meaning and overlaying connections from it. For something that was put together with such a relatively small budget, the camera work and editing was very professional and had a distinct art style that I cannot kick down. But… it just wasn’t for me unfortunately.
There is enough in that story within the story to find interest from however, it was a riveting little thriller even if it was in a microchasm. “Nocturnal Animals” is a film that was probably intended to divide audiences – to have them really discuss and debate it from multiple viewpoints. I would be that way too, if I found enough from the main story to look at and analyse. But sadly that was the weakest link and even if it was intended to be mundane, it needed anchors to hold the attention of the audience. If this sounds like it is up your street, check it out for sure. It wasn’t to my particular taste, but it may prove a more pleasant palette for you.
Thanks for reading!