Me, Popcorn and the Oscars: “Nocturnal Animals”, Tom Ford’s Sophmore Film is Not One to Miss This Season

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.

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*Obvious Spoiler Alert!*

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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.

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  • 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).

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  • 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!!!!

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    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.d29da31c2293b3d5a550baa0af439d31
  • 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)

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  • 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).

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    Overall thoughts

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?

4/5

Me, Popcorn and the Oscars: Moonlight, the Low-budgeted Big Promise that Failed to Surprise.

There is promise here, but overall, not so much art as plain sentimentality.

*Obvious Spoiler Alert!*

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The good things (what I liked)

  • Personally, what I found most original of the movie was the use of names and nicknames. They are a symbol carried throughout the movie that represent the struggle in the characters of deciding who they are, and it’s a deeply human struggle. Who are we? Who do they think we are? Are we letting them define us?
  • I enjoyed the division of the movie in (literally) three acts, or three parts.
  • The homosexual tone in the movie was also something I didn’t expect (I hadn’t watched the trailer), and I thought it was original for a sort of ghetto black character to also be gay.
  • The first two acts were interesting, and Chiron was a compelling and promising main character.
  • The directing is decent, although nothing too great. What’s impressive is the budget of the movie (only $5 million dollars).

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The bad things (what I didn’t like)

  • Now, I don’t want to be mean, but I expected more from the movie. The first bad thing in the movie would be the palpable inexperience of director/writer Barry Jenkins, especially as a writer (for his directing was actually good). This is in no way his fault, for he will probably get better with time, but his writing does need work.
  • The script is bad, not terrible, just bad. It had a lot of problems.
  • First, dialogues. I think there was a dialogue that actually went something like this: “you know the ocean, now I’m going to show you fire.” And the movie is plagued with bad, pseudo-profound lines and conversations. Rarely did a dialogue shock me here. It reminded me a lot of the movie “The Neon Demon”, where dialogues are simply horrendous.
  • Second, still regarding dialogues, but more in terms of how characters spoke, rather than what they spoke, I found the ghetto dialect to be cliché and forced. I felt as if the writer thought just by writing “ain’t” instead of “isn’t” and “is” instead of “are” he was going to sound realistic, but it sounded plain and stiff.
  • Third, the plot was too over the place. There was little continuity between plot line and plot line to feel like an actual Aristotelian plot style (explained in the image below), to mean, there were so many small stories, there wasn’t really just one climax or one introduction, however it was too overly dramatic to be Slice of Life, and too large in plot-time and short in screen time to feel like an actual coming-of-age tale (every time there was a time jump, I felt there were lots of things missing in-between).

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  • Another bad thing was that the portrayal of the ghetto is melodramatic, two-dimensional and stereotypical. All you can expect from a story like this was here. An absentee parent? Check. A drug addict, alcoholic and/or neglectful parent? Check. A run-in with the law? Check. A drug dealer? Check. An injustice? Check. The male-ghetto version of the girl-taking-off-her-glasses-and-having-a-make-over-and-suddenly-being-pretty scene? Check. That is why I found the gay thing so original and refreshing. Because you don’t normally see that type of storyline in these movies.
  • The movie tried to cover so many things, I think it lost itself halfway there. We have the main character, and then we see all his problems: being gay, his neglectful mother, him being bullied, his absentee father, his lack of protection either with the law, at school and at home, his relationship with the drug dealer and his wife, etc. During the first act, the centre is in Juan, this new “father figure”; in the second act, the centre is in the mother’s addiction, the bullying and the secret, gay love affair; and by the third act, there are so many plot lines opened, there is no actual emotional centre (is it so we can see how his relationship with Juan affected him? Or how his mother affected him? Or how the bullies affected him? Or how Kevin affected him?). There are so many things in this movie, and so many emotional questions in the character, it feels too broad and overwhelming for just two hours.
  • Probably because of that, the third act was simply horrible. In a cliché and yet unbelievable turn of events (how can a cliché not work? I’m not really sure yet), Chiron is now a drug dealer with the typical (and expected) hard exterior, wanting to make you believe he’s not the shy, emotional kid anymore. But then, rather quickly we find that this is not true (not that we really believed this cliché act anyway). If Jenkins wanted to make him cold for a while, he should’ve at least made it last more than five minutes. This new “hard armor” is quickly destroyed by a simple call by Kevin (an exquisite scene, with surprisingly good dialogues, may I add),  and further destroyed then by a climatic visit to his mother, and finally the long-awaited unsurprising, forced, long and overly-emotional set of scenes with his long-lost love from High School (who’s now married and has kid), Kevin.

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  • This leads me to the unbelievability of this relationship. Kevin, this boy, was introduced too quickly by the end of the first act, and then is reintroduced in an awkward scene at the start of the second act (almost just so that we know he’s still there), then they meet randomly on a beach, smoke, kiss and well, I’ll leave some stuff to the imagination, and then he beats the hell out of Chiron (so the bullies don’t know he’s actually in love with him). Then comes the third act, many years later. From the quickness and superficiality of their relationship in the second act, I couldn’t believe they would actually still be in love with each other. It’s unrealistic. People move on. I sort of believed Chiron might still be affected by this other man, because of his shy and introverted nature (which apparently he hadn’t overcome it as he’d thought). But the fact that both of them are still in love, is just too sentimentalist from the writer’s part.
  • Finally, Chiron’s relationship with Juan and Teresa, although promising, ended up being flat, and totally forgotten (thus useless) by the end of the film.

Who would I (or wouldn’t I) recommend it to

  • Even though this movie didn’t mesmerize me, and even though I didn’t love it as much as I wanted to, I would still recommend it to some people, after warning them I didn’t find it as good as everyone else apparently did.
  • I would recommend it to activists (or anyone with  activist ideals), people who like low-budget movies that surpassed expectations, people who like good movies, people who like the representation of minorities in movies, and people who like the games with colors and lights in movies (cinematographically speaking).
  • I would not recommend this to people who like movies more for writing than for direction, people who don’t like movies about controversial topics, and people who prefer simple movies like chick flicks and superhero movies.

Best scene or dialogue (if there was any that stood out)

The last scene with Chiron and his mother was honest, simple and heartbreaking. Probably the best and most effective scene in the movie. I could imagine a real mother telling this to a son.

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Also, the scene at the beginning when Chiron is not speaking was good.

Who stole the show?

Naomie Harris, and not because she was great the whole time, but for that last scene. That scene could get her the Oscar much like Patricia Arquette’s last scene in Boyhood gave her an Oscar (although Arquette’s performance throughout the film was more stable and better than Harris’). Too bad she is going against powerhouses who’ve had an Oscar coming for longer like Viola Davis, Michelle Williams, Felicity Jones, and even Greta Gerwig.

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Do I predict this movie will have any actual nominations?

Yes, and what’s more, I believe it has a chance of winning some. Not so much because I believe it deserves them, but because of last year’s Oscars-so-white controversy. This movie is perfect to balance this out, with an all-black cast. However, there is also Fences to cover the spot that could’ve been covered by “Straight Outta Compton” or “Tangerine” last year.

Overall thoughts

The concept and idea of the movie was deeper than the actual execution. There is promise here, but overall, not so much art as plain sentimentality.

Stars

2.5/5