Monday, February 20, 2017

Movie Review: Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Nocturnal Animals (2016) - Written and Directed by Tom Ford; Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fischer, Ellie Bamber, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen.

By Kenny Howell

A woman reexamines her life after reading a haunting new novel by her ex-husband in this unusual, stylish film from Tom Ford.

The fashion designer turned film director Ford had a terrific debut a few years ago with A Single Man, and returns here with another eye-catching, though troublesome film. Not because of anything he has done, the movie is stunning and held together well, the content is just a little hard to get through, and most of those tough scenes are ones which are created inside a fictional work, which is inside this fictional work. Got all that?

Amy Adams (Arrival) is an art gallery owner named Susan who hasn't spoken to her ex-husband Edward, played by Jake Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler), in quite some time when a manuscript of his latest novel shows up at her door. She is now married to the dashing businessman Hutton (Armie Hammer), but something seems a bit unresolved with her ex. That becomes even more apparent when she starts reading the work, a torturous story about a filmmaker (also played by Gyllenhaal) working in West Texas with his family in tow. They are driven off the road one night by some crazy young men, his wife and daughter are raped and murdered, and he is left for dead. He manages to survive, and get to the police. The lead detective is Bobby Andes, played by the always great Michael Shannon (Loving), a man that might bend the rules a bit to get the job done. Together they work on hunting down the men that did this.

The bulk of the film is seemingly that story, the one within the story. There are also moments of Susan's past with Edward, and a few "real" story moments. It is quite an achievement to structure this as well as Ford did, as it bounces around from a story within a story, that is being read by someone in the present, that also reminisces and regrets bits of her past. Plus, the cast is outstanding, notably Shannon who has garnered an Oscar nomination for his work. It is nice to see that he isn't playing outright crazy, and can still build a compelling, somewhat troubling character. Especially since on paper this could have been a stock character.

The drawback of the film may be that story within the story, which is sadistic. It is definitely needed because its contents shatter Susan's psyche. The family within the story is similar to her time with Edward, and those emotional connections, even if destroyed in a fictional work, resonate with her. So Ford needed to go there to get that reaction. However, that also makes it hard to watch at times and incredibly uncomfortable. It's a double-edged sword because it is compelling and repellent simultaneously.

Still, Ford has created a complex work that builds on a solid foundation as a filmmaker he built with A Single Man. He is growing as a filmmaker, and we are all the better for it.

Rating: ***1/2

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