*Obvious Spoiler Alert!*
I will do a small recount on who is who in the movie, because it may be difficult to remember everyone by name. Again, if you haven’t watched the movie, stop reading, otherwise this might get confusing.
Susan: Protagonist in the real world.
Edward: Susan’s ex-husband.
Tony: Protagonist in Edward’s novel (played by the same actor, though).
Laura: Tony’s wife.
India: Tony and Laura’s daughter.
Ray: The rapist and killer of Laura and India.
Hutton: Susan’s new husband.
The good things (what I liked)
- The acting. The acting is this movie is outstanding. Not only are Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal extremely good, but every other actor in the movie shines (Isla Fisher, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Michael Shannon and even Laura Linney, who appears in only one scene).
- The cinematographic juxtaposition of the two stories is something I enjoyed very much. Aesthetically speaking, the two stories in the movie are complete opposites. One is in West Texas, rough, rural, dirty, desertic. The other is an almost-futuristic look at New York: full of contemporary art, glamorous and pompous dresses, and shallow relationships.
- It is extremely interesting how Edward writes a novel that, although plotwise is not like his life, symbolically, it is (or at leats, it was). We never meet Edward in the present (only through Susan’s flashbacks), but in a way, it is evident he sees Susan as Ray (the guy who raped and killed Laura and India). Susan, in the real world, left Edward and aborted his child, thus Edward was left wifeless and childless. This mirrors with Tony’s search for vengeance in the novel. The novel isn’t and shouldn’t be a mystery of if Tony’s family was murdered or not, but a reflection on the hole he was left with, which is the same hole Edward was left with in the real world. Probably because Edward couldn’t really get his vengeance in the real world, he had to write this novel. Although, not to spoil too much, but in the end, he kind of sort of does get vengeance.
- I liked the fact that we don’t see Edward directly. We see him through Susan’s perspective in her flashbacks, but never alone, and never in the present story.
- The scene between Susan and her mother in a flashback is really interesting. We’ve seen Susan in the future, where she is cold and much like her mother, and then we see the flashback, and it’s interesting to see how she, at one point, hated being that.
- The ending sequence. The movie is worth watching only because of Amy Adam’s last scene. Some of you might not understand why I say this, maybe you don’t think the same as I, but let me explain. Yes, it may be hard to cry, to scream, to smile, to blush, to seem crazy, to appear naked on screen, to make dialogues believable, and here she does nothing like that; in this last shot, probably only five seconds long, Susan doesn’t say a word, and doesn’t make any exaggerated or overly dramatic facial expression, however, Adams portrays total devastation and inner destruction. Edward destroys Susan by not showing up, and she sees finally how her life will never change, and how she chose this, and how she’ll never be happy. When casting Adams, director Tom Ford told her he wanted to know how her character feels, and this is why she said she accepted the role. And this is true throughout the movie. Most of the character’s turmoils are interior and rarely spoken to someone, so Adams had to do a lot of silent scenes where she is just reading and thinking. But in no scene does this show better than in this one (the picture below is not of that scene, though. I couldn’t find the right one).
- This movie is by Tom Ford, and guessing by the two films he’s done (A Single Man and this one, both spectacular), you’ll want to keep on eye on this one.
- The beginning of the movie. The first five minutes or so are long shots of fat, old women dancing naked. Ultimately, it is explained that this is part of an Art Exhibition in Susan’s gallery, but this sequence gave me a lot to think about. The movie is deeply metaphorical, so I think of this sequence as a symbol for the movie, how we sometimes try to ignore, push down and set aside those things we don’t want to confront, both in society and in our personal lives.
- Finally, the clothes are gorgeous, the makeup is impeccable, and Jeff Koons!!!!
The bad things (what I didn’t like)
- Sometimes the characters are described too straightforwardly, and with only two or three characteristics (e.g. dreamer, weak, pragmatic, etc).
- The ending of the novel is quite unsatisfying for my taste. Tony dying is a moralistic ending, in the sense that I feel it more as a way of saying “vengeance is never good” or “vengeance doesn’t bring happy endings”. Also, it is somewhat unbelievable the way he died, falling over his own gun.
- Okay, so in a way, Ray’s character is somewhat overly dramatic, the acting is over-the-top, and he’s extremely two-dimensional. However, this is not necessarily a bad thing. Normally this is bad, but here I’m not so sure. I put it in the bad things because I’m not sure how I feel about it yet, and the good side had too many things. This is why it may be okay for Ray to be an exaggeratedly disgusting and evil character: probably, that’s how Edward sees Susan. He feels disgusted by her, and he has no compassion towards her, and being that Ray is partially a symbol for Susan, then maybe Edward didn’t want to humanize him and make him likable.
- Some story lines were flat, for example, why did Ford need to introduce Susan’s daughter if she literally had no impact on the plot, and never came up back again after her thirty-seconds scene.
- The film needed at least, twenty to forty more minutes, or some time distribution. At times, especially at the start of the movie and with the flashbacks, the pacing was too quick. The movie needed to take its time. The novel took too much time of the movie, and I think at times Ford forgot the main story was Susan’s and not Tony’s. There were three story lines (Susan’s in the present, Susan’s in the past and Tony’s), and this was too much. The flashbacks had a lot of time jumps that made that plot line move too quickly (for example, one day she met him, the next flashback she’s married, and then the next she’s already unhappy).
- The whole relationship between Susan’s gay brother and his wife (yes, you read that right) was interesting, but because it was never developed or talked again after they’re introduced, it seemed flat and unnecessary. It seemed more an excuse to introduce some of Susan and Hutton’s problems than an actual insight into another relationship.
Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to
I would recommend this movie to anyone who likes interesting, complex movies, centered more on characters than plot, and movies that you want to see again, just to see if you catch something else. Also, people who like to read, or watch movies with adapted screenplays.
Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)
- As I said before, that final shot at Amy Adam’s face was enough to watch the whole thing, but besides that, probably the best scene is Susan’s conversation with her mother.
- Also, the first scene of the novel, when Laura and India are kidnapped was excruciatingly painful to watch (in a good way, for a scene so dark that’s easy to watch, is not a good scene).
Who stole the show?
Most people think Shannon stole the show, but personally, he wasn’t the best. For a white male critic, it is obvious why Tony’s story might be more interesting, and Shannon (or even Taylor-Johnson) might be a favorite, but for me, Amy Adams stole the show. She probably won’t get nominated for this, because she has also “Arrival”, and because she is in the weird place in between Lead and Supporting actress. She is the main character, but because the novel takes out so much time of the movie, she wasn’t always on screen.
Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?
Some, but not many. Maybe some for a supporting role (Taylor-Johnson got nominated for a Golden Globe, but Shannon was more talked about, so who knows). Also, probably the adapted screenplay may get a nomination, director and costumes design would also not surprise me. But I don’t think it will win any of the big 5 (Movie, Director, Actor, Actress, and Screenplay).
Metaphorical, cyclical, hypnotizing, “Nocturnal Animals” is a deep and different tale of vengeance and obsession. It certainly isn’t perfect, and sometimes director Tom Ford misses, but he’s always clear as to where he’s shooting.
How many stars?