Review: Nocturnal Animals

In most Oscar-contender cases it’s style over substance in my opinion, with Nocturnal Animals being directed by renowned fashion designer Tom Ford I was worried this would be the same. I’m glad to say I couldn’t have been more wrong, this film not only brings great style, it has amazing set design and costumes, phenomenal performances and a gripping story which literally had me on the edge of my seat throughout. Nocturnal Animals was a great start to the Oscar season and will be a tough one to beat.

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Amy Adams brings her A-game every awards season, with 5 Oscar nominations to date, she always seems to be the bridesmaid but never the bride. From whatI hear from the early film festival screenings she might be the bridesmaid again with the early favourites being Emma Stone and Natalie Portman. I will be seeing Adam’s other release Arrival next week and from what I hear she gives just as good a performance of Nocturnal Animals. Adams plays such a dynamic character who has such a transition throughout the film it shows the talent Adam has. The use of flashbacks really showed Adam’s talent, the young Susan was a vast transition to the Susan we meet present day, a clear mirror of her cynical mother (played superbly by Laura Linney). It’s unfair to say this is Adam’s film, my favourite scenes were definitely the ones she shares with Jake Gyllenhaal. 

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In my eyes, Gyllenhaal actually gave the stronger performance, but that was mainly because he had more to do. At the start of the film, it’s easy to see the similarities between the author and fictitious character Gyllenhaal plays. As the film goes on the differences become more apparent and Gyllenhaal makes them both equally believable. It would be hard to like his fictitious character if it wasn’t for Michael Shannon’s  vengeful but hilarious detective. I know it’s early but in my opinion Shannon should be in consideration for a Supporting Actor nomination but only time will tell. Rounding off the fictitious story cast it was a surprisingly creepy performance from Aaron Taylor-Johnson, I think we are on the verge of great things from him.

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The directing and editing of this film help to create this modern and stylistic theme but also help tell the story superbly. The constant cutting and imaging between the real and fictitious storyline help she Adam’s character Susan’s journey from innocent and passionate to dead and cold and finally back to innocent and vulnerable. Knowing Ford is a fashion designer, his visual stylings were clear to see but they never got in the way of the substance of the story, they simply added to it. This is a great follow-up to A Single Man and truly puts Ford on the map as an up and coming director. The opening sequence is definitely eye-opening and shocking, had it not had context within the film I would have called it unnecessary but since it was part of the art gallery it made some sense.

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Having had many discussions about Susan’s story through the film, this is my theory on what happened to her character. I think Susan was sad and lonely in her new marriage, realising her new husband didn’t love her anymore and that she might have thrown away the only may who ever did. When she received the book it opened her eyes to the horrors she caused Edward. Like in the book, he loses both his wife and his daughter through something that was out of his control and as much as he tries he can’t do anything to get her back.

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As the film goes on it becomes clear that Susan is becoming influenced by her lack of sleep, mainly shown through the demon she see’s when watching the baby on the iPhone. This made me question other things we saw early in the film. We see Susan call her ‘daughter’ who was mirroring the dead body seen in the story, later in the film we see Susan aborted Edward’s baby, so did she really talk to her daughter on the phone. This brings me to the end of the film. We watch and sympathise for Susan sitting alone at the dinner table waiting for Edward to meet her. Was this him seeking revenge for the horrors Susan put him through? Or was this all made up in her mind, did Edward even email her in the first place or was it something she made up because she wanted her life to be better? Something I guess we will never know.

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Nocturnal Animals is a gripping, suspenseful thriller and it was a great start to Oscar season for me. It was a great addition to Ford’s roster of films which I am sure he will make some great additions to. Superb performances especially by Adams, Gyllenhaal, Taylor-Johnson and Shannon especially in some tough dynamic roles. A masterpiece in style without ever taking away from the substance of the film. A must see for any film fan especially if you want a break from the action-packed blockbusters.

8/10

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