Nocturnal Animals is a mess, but an intriguing one nonetheless. While it’s hard to discern a clear meaning from the story, or find a thread that truly combines all the bizarre elements together, there’s some interesting characters and performance that maintain its watchability. It’s a film that’s prone to being seen multiple times and provoking dissection and analysis, but it’s not particularly good in a traditional sense.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), is an aristocratic art dealer living with her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). After a major gallery opening, Morrow receives a manuscript in the mail from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). The novel tells the story of Tony Hastings (also Jake Gyllenhaal) , a father seeking justice for crimes against his family, who forms a reluctant alliance with an eccentric sheriff (Michael Shannon) to find the men responsible. The parallels between the novel and Morrow’s life become apparent, and flashbacks to their marriage uncover a strange and turbulent relationship.
The film is so set on being disorienting, and while it’s not inherently hard to follow, it is a challenge to invest on the storyline outside of the novel. The way in which the storylines interact is interesting, but the bizarre and unnecessary visual imagery and at points on the nose dialogue are distracting. While the end end builds to a genuinely exciting finale for the characters in the novel, we’re left with more questions than answers. Sometimes this can be a good thing, but the questions raised aren’t those about hidden meanings or added layers of depth, but questions as to what the point of the film is.
Amy Adams is good here, and despite playing a purposefully unlikeable character, she does make us relate to her despite relatively little screen time. Gyllenhaal is excellent here, brilliantly portraying the duality of the roles, and giving the most emotionally resonant and complex performance of the entire film. If there’s a standout of the film, its definitely Michael Shannon, who’s eccentric sheriff brings and intensity and comedy that’s quite unexpected for the film.
Nocturnal Animals may be dismissed by some as complete trash, and others may regard it as a masterpiece. While there’s intriguing elements to the story, the film ultimately goes no where, but that’s not to say it’s not an entertaining ride. It’s impressive that a film like this could get made, but at the same time, it’s not an excuse for missing the mark. Grade: B-