Review: Nocturnal Animals (15, 1hr 57mins)


Those of you who follow me on Twitter will know that I recently went on a foreign film binge for research for a radio show. It’s called Screen Brum, and you can listen back to it here. I have watched so many subtitled films lately that I am now fluent in sixteen languages!

Accept english, Me never to gud wiv english.

My foreign film adventure kept me away from the cinemas, so I decided to visit my local independent last week and catch up with a film I missed. After watching so many different genres of film over the last few weeks, I was in the mood for something fluffy and light-hearted; something that will wash over me and not be a heavy trudge of a watch…

…so I went to Nocturnal Animals… it was not the Dreamworks Animation I was expecting!

Art Gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), receives a manuscript for a novel written by her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), and an invitation to meet. Despite the risk of going broke and coming to the realisation that her new husband is having an affair, she begins to read the manuscript, which is not only dedicated to her but also called Nocturnal Animals, which was Edward’s nickname for her. As she flips the pages she discovers that the story is a shockingly brutal and violent tale of a family who are forced off the road by a gang during a road trip through West Texas. Despite the book being a disturbing read and Edward’s reasons for dedicating it to her being a dark mystery, Susan gets consumed by the story and reads on…


This is a very strange film indeed. It is very rare that I watch a film, come straight out of the cinema and not know if what I had just seen was any good or not. The genius of this film is that it stays lodged in your mind for days on end, and I found that watching another film failed to displace it. I wouldn’t say it was a pleasant or even an enjoyable watch, but the tension it builds is unbearable, the fear it inflicts makes you feel sick to your stomach and the alienation it surrounds its lead within is cold and isolating. It is a film that has been crafted by a true auteur of the trade, and this is only director Tom Ford’s second feature!

This film oozes artistry and style. The present day setting looks like it could have come straight from Glamour magazine. It’s glossy, shiny, minimalistic, and unashamedly chic, with “real-world” characters who convince that they are trapped in this vacuous, cat-walk hell that they call everyday life. Amy Adams portrays a woman who has had her soul nocturnal-animalsripped out by the life she has found herself in but is too scared to leave the haven that she has discovered in her norm. When the film flashes back to her younger days her performance is subtle and nuanced but she makes it clear that this is a very different person to the present day Susan. If she isn’t nominated for an Oscar for Arrival then this should get her nod.

The direction of photography may appear to be pretentious to some, along with the setting in which this story unfolds. As a result, some may find the lead and her problems hard to relate to. Not many people will have any experience of her lavish lifestyle and high-class social circles, and this may act as a barrier to the audience feeling anything towards her other than mock-pity, which is further complied if the audience mistakenly believe that this is just a Tom Ford vanity project. However, the real skill of this film is how the director and the performances of the cast allow the audience to see past the gossamer sheen and make you feel for the main characters; even the fictitious ones in Edward’s nocturnal-animals-02book. If you are not effected in any way by the stellar performance of Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the vile, despicable Ray Marcus then check for a heartbeat! He convinces as this scum-of-the earth piece of trash to skin-crawlingly putrid effect, and I am delighted that he has just received a nod for Best Supporting Actor at the Golden Globes. Despite their fleeting appearances, Andrea Riseborough and Michael Sheen convince as a couple in a marriage of convenience and Jake Gyllenhaal plays the part of Edward and the lead of his book with the high standard that we come to expect from him. Michael Shannon adds another chameleon-like performance as the detective in the book trying to bring justice to an unjust town.  He is such a convincing screen presence and he is in the form of his life at the moment.

It’s a grim watch in places and I don’t think I could sit through it again, but that’s not to say it isn’t essential viewing and one of the best films 2016 has to offer. Just don’t expect it to be a cutesy animated tale of a badger and a fox who join forces against a dopey but dangerous cull leader or something…

…has anyone got the address for Dreamworks Animation Studios? I think I’ve had a lightbulb moment…



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