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Sandy Journal

Dan's Review: "Nocturnal Animals" offers bleak look at humanity

Nov 22, 2016 11:59PM ● By Dan Metcalf

Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals © 2016 – Focus Features

Nocturnal Animals (Focus Features)

Rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language.

Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, Michael Sheen, Ellie Bamber, Robert Aramayo, Kristin Bauer, Karl Glusman, Jena Malone, Zawe Ashton.

Written by Tom Ford, based on Tony and Susan, by Austin Wright.

Directed by Tom Ford.



When it comes to Avant garde cinema, I’m usually intrigued by movies that evoke reflection on the state of humanity (or lack thereof). Many such films offer little narrative context, taking deep routes to ideas and feelings instead of telling linear stories. I do enjoy a well-done “art” movie from time to time, but I prefer art that speaks to a deeper truth about the world I live in. Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford’s adaptation of Austin Wright’s acclaimed novel Tony and Susan is a movie that evokes varied feelings about the state of humanity through art, but they aren’t good feelings.

Nocturnal Animals is a story-within-a-story. Amy Adams plays Susan, a successful, but depressed art gallery director based in Los Angeles. Her marriage to Hutton (Armie Hammer) is a farce, as he jets off on “business trips” that are really trysts with a mistress as his actual business fails. One night, a mysterious package arrives, containing a novel manuscript, written by Susan’s ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). When Hutton takes off for the weekend, Susan reads the novel (titled “Nocturnal Animals), and imagines the scenes of the story. The novel is the story of a man named Tony (played by Gyllenhaal) who takes his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter India (Ellie Bamber) on a cross country drive that goes through a lonesome Texas highway. The family is attacked by three redneck ruffians named Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) Turk (Robert Aramayo) and Lou (Carl Glusman) who beat Tony and kidnap the women. Tony is left in the desert and wanders back to a small town where the local detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) takes on the case. The investigation leads to the grisly discovery of the women’s bodies, beaten, raped and strangled. The investigation drags on until the culprits are captured and Tony must identify them. His anger grows when it seems that the suspects may get off on a technicality. Det. Andes has other ideas, and Tony must decide whether to take the law into his own hands.

As Susan reads Edward’s novel, she reflects on their own failed marriage, going through the dreamy romantic parts and ending with Susan’s demand that Edward give up his dream of being a writer. After finishing Edward’s novel, she sends him a message and they agree to meet for dinner.

Nocturnal Animals is a movie high on art and visual expression that does not paint a good picture of the world we live in. Tom Ford’s adaptation presents a world where high society drowns in its condescending view of lesser beings. For instance, the opening credits are shown over slow motion film of nude, overweight, aging women, dancing while wearing Fourth of July hats, waving sparklers. It is a prelude to Susan’s art gallery opening of sculptures (or maybe live models) of the same women in the films. I’m not sure what message Ford is trying to convey, other than a condescending and obscene commentary on kitsch. 

The rest of the film doesn’t have a very high view of anything else within American culture, leaning on stereotypical crutches, like depicting backroads people as lawless monsters (better not leave the coast!) and privileged artisans as self-absorbed jerks who dress funny and pay boatloads of money for artwork like the naked obese women or a 6-foot tall chrome sculpture of a balloon animal. It’s like one of those haute couture fashion shows where models wear trees on their heads as the they “vogue” down the runway. It should come as no surprise that Tom Ford’s background comes from the fashion industry, where practical, affordable clothing is something beneath coastal elites. Nocturnal Animals is a movie that feeds of such negative aspects of the American existence, rather than trying to understand it.

It should be noted that Jake Gyllenhaal’s performance is excellent, despite the dark nature of the Nocturnal Animals. He continues to astound with his ability to convey some of the darker sides of human emotion.  Amy Adams, on the other hand, is less impressive, sleepily conveying a spirit of elitist nihilism. It isn’t her best work, but Nocturnal Animals isn’t the best material to work with, either. 

Nocturnal Animals Trailer