By Greg Canzio (Fort Pierce, FL, US)

 

Many viewers will formulate their opinion on Nocturnal Animals only seconds into the film. An unforgettable opening sequence that will either captivate you or make you cringe in your seat. That might depend on which side of the political spectrum you reside. While I was mesmerized by the artistry on screen, an unsurprising amount of filmgoers in my theater “tsk-tsk” their way through the opening credits. It’s a shame.

By instantly creating a bias, filmgoers will lose focus in Tom Ford’s vision. Yes, the same Tom Ford who’s day job has created some of the First Lady’s most dazzling clothing. The former creative director at Gucci made his directorial debut with 2007s A Single Man where Colin Firth played a gay professor coping with the loss of his partner. Nine years later, Ford’s eccentric follow-up has hit mainstream audiences. While I enjoyed the slice of life that was A Single Man, Nocturnal Animals shook me to my core.

Based on the 1993 novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals follows a “high class” art gallery owner named Susan (Amy Adams) who becomes entranced by a gripping yet extremely violent book manuscript dedicated to her and written by estranged ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Nocturnal Animals shifts back and forth between three incredibly crafted narratives. The present day real world where Susan struggles with money, her job, and an unfaithful husband (Armie Hammer). Susan’s past depicted in flashbacks that reveal her relationship with Edward and its inevitable downfall. And the fictitious story that is Edward’s Western noir novel.

Edward’s novel titled, Nocturnal Animals, which was also the nickname given to Susan during their marriage, follows a family man named Tony Hastings (dual roles for Gyllenhaal) and his family who find themselves in the crosshairs of three deranged strangers.

Nocturnal Animals is dark, grim, and hopeless but is never dull or boring. In fact, the film is the most stunning spectacle I have seen all year. A beautifully made, subtle revenge story that can be mistaken as pretentious commentary. Nocturnal Animals is much more personal and layered. The film tackles topics such as loyalty, heartbreak, identity, and the aforementioned revenge.

Nocturnal Animals does so many things right. One being a showcase for the film’s incredible talent. Gyllenhaal, who is so impressive playing dual characters, continues to be one of the best actors of our generation IMO. An actor who has been overlooked year after year, Gyllenhaal has put out dynamite performances in Prisoners, End of Watch, Enemy, and Nightcrawler. Each performance deserving of an Oscar nom. Maybe playing two roles will be what it takes to be noticed by the Academy.

Adams delivers another great performance, but is that a surprise? The actress is a freaking heavyweight that continues to dominate her roles. Her screen time is limited compared to her male costar, but the importance of her character is tremendous. Michael Shannon radiates excellence as a calm, cool and sometimes hilarious detective in Edward’s novel. Expect Oscar buzz. But the standout performance comes from Aaron Taylor-Johnson who plays the Ray Marcus, the vile and gross leader of the deranged strangers Tony and his family encounter. Taylor-Johnson’s performance will rank among the all-time great psychopaths in film history. A breakout role that displays Taylor-Johnson’s incredible range.

Ford is among the most exciting new directors in the industry today. Channeling his inner David Lynch, Ford has created one of the most visually and narratively stunning films of 2016. But anyone who is familiar with Tom Ford’s work understands he has an eye for the beautiful and boy is this film lovely to look at. Just like his fashion, Ford is a master at guiding the audiences’ eyes. Even the film’s vilest scenes drew me in like magnets. Much credit to cinematographer Seamus McGarvey for capturing Ford’s vision.

Nocturnal Animals provides a sneak peek inside two very different types of people. In the real world, Susan’s life and the people she associates with can appear superficial. These are the type of people who have it all but want more. Edward’s novel shows a nasty and gritty side of the human race with his novel’s antagonists. These individuals are unkempt, live in shacks, and lack any sense of decency. They live with no laws or consequences. Ford explores the ugliness in both lifestyles. In some way, Nocturnal Animals feels like the lovechild of this year’s The Neon Demon and Hell or Highwater.

Audiences may see Nocturnal Animals as ostentatious, but this is a film that needs to be digested. Much like Adams’s other 2016 film, Arrival, this requires audiences to think. Your answers will not be delivered on a silver plate. But the more you process Nocturnal Animals the more rewarding this mind bender becomes. Not only did I love watching Nocturnal Animals, I love thinking about it equally. I have not been so emotionally disturbed yet invigorated by a thriller since watching Blue Velvet for the first time. I want to hug this film but immediately take a shower afterward.

Rating: 5/5

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