Saturday, November 26, 2016

Movie Review: NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (Review #2)

Nocturnal Animals is the second, and latest, feature by acclaimed couturier turned director Tom Ford. The film tells the story of a woman named Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) as she gets a mysterious manuscript of a novel written by her ex-husband. The narrative of the story switches between Susan reading the novel and the events of the novel which intertwine in interesting ways to create a fulfilling narrative overall. The film stars Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Karl Glusman, and Armie Hammer.

Nocturnal Animals is an absolutely superb film from start to finish. The main thing that struck me was how beautiful the film was. This film combines gorgeous cinematography with stunning production and costume design to create a film that feels like a pure work of art. There is something in every frame of this film to appreciate and the striking use of color (particularly red) made this film all the more stunning to behold.

On top of looking beautiful, the story was great as well. With two interwoven narratives that, on the surface, have absolutely nothing in common, this film gave itself many different areas to feel disjointed and to fail as a complete whole. That said, it uses them together to perfection and they were both extremely compelling. I kept wondering throughout the film where each was going to go and I was fully invested in each element throughout which is the sign of truly excellent storytelling.

The acting performances in this film are also thoroughly on point. In a year when Amy Adams has owned through a decent blockbuster performance in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and a deeply complex, brilliant, and layered performance in Arrival, her work in Nocturnal Animals is her best of the year in my view. She has a lot of emotional subtleties and wild character shifts to play in this film and she pulls them off perfectly. On top of that, Jake Gyllenhaal (who has been delivering stellar performances in everything of late) hits a homerun in this film as well. He plays two distinct characters and managed to get me invested in each of them through a level of believability that a lesser actor couldn’t deliver. The supporting cast also comes to play. Shannon plays a detective in a small west Texas town brilliantly, Glusman and Taylor-Johnson are spectacularly despicable, Hammer is charming and a near perfect depiction of the wealthy jerk character archetype. They all come to play in their own way and it all works extremely well. The final interesting thing they do with the actors is use Amy Adams and Isla Fisher in parallel in the two narratives. This plays on a look-alike thing people have been pointing out for years and it was really cool to actually see in a film.

The last thing I want to mention is a specific motif that arises throughout the film and the subtle shot design tool Ford and cinematographer Seamus McGarvey use to achieve it. Nocturnal Animals as a story is a lot about reflection on choices the characters made and where they might have done the right thing or gone the wrong way. It also uses the parallel narratives to also promote the reflection motif. The key shot tool is the use of mirror and mirror-like surfaces. There are many shots in this film of characters looking at themselves and others in mirrors or other surfaces that look brilliant on screen and emphasize this motif in a powerful, but subtle way.

I have very little negative to say about Nocturnal Animals as I see it as a really great film. There were moments here or there that led to unresolved questions or storylines. There were moments where parts of the message of the film felt emphasized on the nose. All of these amounted to very little, however.

I really loved Nocturnal Animals and I think it really is one of the best films of 2016. With a superb look, great storytelling and performances, and wonderful use of a consistent motif, this film is a triumph and shows that Ford has a level of skill on pace with far more experienced directors than himself. This is definitely a must see.

Ryan’s Score: 9.5/10

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