Monday, January 16, 2017

Nocturnal Animals Review

"Nocturnal Animals" is a title that immediately jumps off the page at you. When I first heard about this movie close to a year ago, I was immediately intrigued and I knew nothing about it. It just sounded like a cool movie to see. When the time came closer to these Oscar movies and I learned that this was in fact a crime thriller of sorts starring Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, I was sold. It's the genre that I love most starring two of my favorite actors. What could go wrong? Well, not much actually. This is a solidly entertaining, thrilling movie definitely worth a shot if this is a genre you enjoy. It has received it's fair share of Oscar buzz, although this isn't the type of film that Oscar usually embraces, so I won't be too surprised if it comes up somewhat blank. It did get a surprise win at the Globes that I'll talk about later and a lot of love from the BAFTA nominations (9 nominations total), so that's good news. And yes, this is the final movie that I saw back in early December, which means we'll finally get to my January showings next. In this case I'm glad I gave myself time to think about this, because in addition to being a thriller, it's a movie intended to make one think.

Directed by Tom Ford, "Nocturnal Animals" is essentially a three-in-one-movie. It's a completely different genre and movie than "Inception," but "Inception" is the movie that I thought of while watching "Nocturnal Animals" due to it being a story within a story where the story within the story has consequences to what's happening in the present time, much like the dream within a dream idea in "Inception." Amy Adams plays a woman named Susan Morrow, the owner an art gallery. Despite being well-off financially, she is living a somewhat miserable life. Her current husband, played by Armie Hammer, isn't being super faithful and thus their marriage is deteriorating. Then one day she receives a manuscript for an upcoming book from her first husband Edward Sheffield, played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The book is dedicated to her and is called "Nocturnal Animals." So Susan sits down and starts reading this book, thus we are introduced to this story within the story. While we see this story play out, we also go back and forth from that to what is happening with Susan in the present day and we see flashbacks to the rise and fall of her and Edward's relationship.

A setup like this has the potential to get quite messy. Often movies try to do too much with their story and end up self-destructing because of it. The classic example of a movie that tried to do too much with it's story is "Spider-Man 3," which set up a ton of villains and way too many story arcs that all crashed and died. "Nocturnal Animals" doesn't suffer that fate and thus the credit for making this complex story succeed has to go to Tom Ford, who wrote, directed and produced the movie, which was adapted from the 1993 novel "Tony and Susan," by Austin Wright. Interweaving these three different storylines had to have been a complex writing and directing process, but it worked. There is equal weight placed on each of the three arcs and you slowly see how all of them tie together to make for one beautiful story. Had the movie just been this book that Edward sends to his wife, that could've made for an interesting movie in and of itself. But being that it's a book that Edward dedicated to his wife, you began to feel uneasy about this relationship between Edward and Susan as you spend the movie trying to figure out how this story relates to the present, what it says about their former marriage and what it means about Edward's plans for the future. Thus all three story arcs complement each other quite well and the movie wouldn't have as much weight if one of the arcs didn't exist.

That said, if I were to make a determination as to which of these story arcs was the most interesting, it's easily the story within the story. This is where the movie transitions from becoming a drama surrounding a woman and her failed love life as well as the consequences of that to being an intense crime thriller. This book that Edward has dedicated to Susan is rather intense story. Edward himself is the main character of the movie, but in the story his name is Tony Hastings, thus we have Jake Gyllenhaal in an impressive double role in the film. Tony is driving with his wife and daughter, played by Isla Fisher and Ellie Bambeer, down the highway at night when his car is forced off the side of the road by a car full of thugs who kidnap, rape and murder his wife and daughter. Thus Tony is left all alone in life. The story picks up a year or so later when the police finally find a lead in the case and detective by the name of Bobby Andes, who was assigned to the case, gets together with Tony to help pin down this group of thugs. Yeah, you can see why Susan is pretty unsettled with this novel that she's reading. What is the purpose of this novel? How is it going to turn out? Is Edward planning something crazy? How does everything tie into the present?

I'm obviously not going to answer those questions for you, but this interweaving story really had my undivided attention throughout the whole run time. Lots of praise has to go to this whole cast, which if you couldn't tell, is loaded with talent. The star of the movie is easily Jake Gyllenhaal, who one of these days has to stop being ignored by the Academy. He's one of the best actors in the business and has quite the diverse resume where he brings his "A" game in each role. As both Edward and Tony, he gives two very different performances that combine for one complex character who you both fear and feel bad for. Starring right alongside Gyllenhaal is Amy Adams, who I honestly think gives a better performance than she did in "Arrival." I think "Arrival" is the better movie, but I think "Nocturnal Animals" is the more complex, emotional performance that impressed me more. But I suppose I'm in the minority in that because her "Arrival" performance is the one getting her all the attention and should get her her sixth Oscar nomination. I suppose I can't complain about that. One of these days I hope she gets an actual win at the Oscars as she's 0 for 5 so far with her nominations.

Speaking of awards attention that this movie is actually getting, Adams and Gyllenhaal, barring a big shocker on nomination morning, will not be the ones recognized. It's the supporting actor category where this movie is getting recognized. Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon are the two. Both of these fellows exist in the story within the story. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays our main thug while Michael Shannon plays the detective helping Jake Gyllenhaal's character. My personal favorite performance out of these two is definitely Aaron Taylor-Johnson. I had no idea he was even in the movie while I was watching and he definitely unrecognizable as this main thug. Yet I was loving his character. This dude was such a creepy, despicable human being. Probably one of the best antagonists of 2016. When the end credits revealed to me that it was Aaron Taylor-Johnson playing this thug, I was honestly floored. When he shocked the world and won the Golden Globe for best supporting actor over expected winner Mahershala Ali, I gave a round of applause. That's definitely the more deserving performance. I hope he gets the Oscar nomination, but if it's Michael Shannon instead, I won't be complaining. Michael Shannon's character was pretty boss and made some great decisions in the story.

As far as negatives for this movie, while I did think the present storyline with Amy Adams in the present was an important factor to the movie, I'm a part of the group of people who were disappointed in the resolution of that story arc. Going back to the "Inception" comparison, the movie gives us an ending similar to "Inception." In this case, though, I was hoping for a bit more. You have to sit there and draw your own conclusions and I was somewhat unsatisfied with this. I was expecting something completely different with the ending and I would've rather had my ending than the movie's ending. But that's all I'll say about that. I also was appalled by the opening credits. I've read Tom Ford's explanation about it, but in my opinion he could've done something a bit different and still sent the same message. It was completely unnecessary to the plot of the film in my opinion. I won't say what happens to avoid putting bad images in your head if you haven't seen it, but if you have seen it, I will just add that it had nothing to do with the shape and size of the individuals. But outside that opening scene and the final resolution, I think this is a solid film that's definitely worth seeing if you enjoy crime thrillers and complex stories that are beautifully told. I'll give "Nocturnal Animals" a 9/10.

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