By Jack Dignan
The power is cinema is immeasurable. It makes you feel things no other art form can make you feel. It can make you happy, it can make you sad, it can make you angry, or it could make you feel all three of these at once. It's a powerful storytelling device and there are movies that come along every so often that make me appreciate cinema as a whole just that little bit more. They're not always the greatest films I've ever seen, and they don't always make it into my list of all time favourite films, but they come along and they make me fall just that little bit deeper in love with cinema. Nocturnal Animals, the second film from writer-director Tom Ford, is one of these. It's not the greatest film of the year, but my god, I think I've fallen further in love with the power of film.
Based on the book by Austin Wright (which I feel obligated to read now, as I truly did love this movie and would definitely be interested in seeing how it translated from the page to the screen), Nocturnal Animals is a peculiar film to summarise, due to the complicated nature of its narrative. The central character is a fashion designer named Susan (Amy Adams), who is sent an early copy of her ex-husband Edward's (Jake Gyllenhaal) new book. The two haven't spoken to each other in 19 years, yet he dedicates the book to her. It's titled 'Nocturnal Animals,' and we watch the story unfold on screen as Susan reads the book. It's violent and unpleasant, but at the same time quite brilliant, and as she continues to read, she starts to unravel the reasons as to why it's dedicated to her.
When the film came to a close, I had to take a moment to soak everything in. In fact, everyone I saw the movie with had to take a brief moment to just sit in silence. It's a haunting, impactful and genius tale of justice and revenge, serving as a fictitious memoir of agony. It's a full on movie, needing your complete attention and dealing with topics many audience members will find uncomfortable, or perhaps even appalled by how far it takes its subject matter. It's confrontational and uncomfortable, never really holding an awful lot back, but at the same time, feeling like a very restraint movie. It tells its story exceptionally well, and it's not a film for everyone, but as for myself, I haven't been able to get it out of my head.
The one thing you have to know going in is that, if you've seen the trailer, you really don't know what to expect. While the trailer indicates that the film is the story of Amy Adams' life, it's far from it. She is, technically, the protagonist of this movie. Everything is told through her perspective, a lot of it relates back to her and all the flashbacks are from her point of view, but what takes up most of this film's runtime is the novel her ex-husband wrote. It's a story within a story, and it's this story that was hardly even advertised. But still, even knowing that fact doesn't change anything. When you sit down to watch this film, you will not know what's coming next, or even what it all means at first. It's messed up and enthralling at the same time, and taking my eyes away from the screen just wasn't an option.
It's a twisted narrative, full of shocking imagery and heart wrenching storytelling. Tom Ford has delivered a film that requires a lot of analysis, and he's done such a great job at doing so. Every single image he creates is subtle, artsy and full of parallels, giving every single frame much needed depth. There's a certain glamour to the whole thing, the authenticity oozing off the screen and its haunting nature branded into my brain. His combination of camerawork, score and editing makes for one of the best made films I've seen in a very long time. In fact, this may just be one of the best made films of the year, potentially even prevailing over Arrival and Hacksaw Ridge, and while it's about as uncomfortable as films come, I do want to go see it again. Pronto.
Taking us on this psychotic story is a highly talented group of actors, and asking who's in it takes a much longer time to answer than asking who isn't in it. Jake Gyllenhaal has, and always will be one of my favourite actors, every performance of his full of class. He is without a doubt one of the finest actors to ever live, and I feel like it's no longer too early into his career to say that. He keeps on getting better and better and better, and as for Amy Adams... well, between this and Arrival, both of which hit Australian theatres today, she's had a great run of films lately, and while I did like her performance in Arrival just a little bit more, she just kills it here.
I can't finish up this review without mentioning the supporting cast, as, while their screen time is scarce, they're all outstanding. Michael Shannon is probably the biggest contender, taking on a major role in the actual story of 'Nocturnal Animals,' and he kills it, even if it's another variation of the typical Michael Shannon character (he's even played another character before that has both the same name and job). On a side note, maybe that's why I loved his performance in Elvis & Nixon so much earlier this year, as it's so unlike him, yet it's one of his best performances. But getting back to Nocturnal Animals, the other standout from the cast is Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who's unrecognisable as this despicable, unnerving character. Everyone in this movie is just at the top of their game, and when everyone is simultaneously this good, it makes me appreciate it just that little bit more.
To sum up, Nocturnal Animals is smart, fucked up filmmaking that works, featuring brilliance in all departments, including the holy trinity of directing, writing and acting. Gyllenhaal and Adams are sensational, but there isn't a single weak link in the entire cast, and I could talk for hours about just how beautiful Tom Ford has made this film, even with its disturbing, graphic imagery.
4 1/2 Stars