Piercing, unrelenting noir drama.
Calling 2016 thriller ‘Nocturnal Animals‘ melancholic is boldly understated. It took all the courage I could muster to watch this noir masterpiece beginning to end. A soul stripping story of injustice and regret. With tour de force performances and a beautiful, classic style.
The opening “modern art” sequence of fully nude, flagrantly obese women dancing on projected screens for the clueless amusement of rich narcissists perfectly sets the tone for what’s coming. This is clearly not going to be some feel good redemption tale.
Gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) is living an unfulfilled life. Instead of pursing her dream of creating art she’s settled into a life of empty affluence and a loveless marriage to a businessman playboy (Armie Hammer).
When a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives Susan is quickly engulfed by the simmering emotion she finds within. And we get to come along for the ride, presenting a film within a film.
The novel “Nocturnal Animals” tells of Tony (Gyllenhaal, in a dual role) who, while on a road trip with his family, is accosted by a group of thugs led by an off the hook Aaron Taylor-Johnson. Tony’s compounding tragedies parallel flashbacks of Susan’s real life, complete with fill-in-the-blanks of Susan’s youthful romance with Edward. She quickly grows to envy Tony’s perilous journey as it reflects the raw emotion missing from her own privileged “life”.
Filmmaker Tom Ford’s attention to detail is evident in every frame, from Susan’s opulent emptiness and through Tony’s quest for “justice” in the dusty backwaters of rural Texas. With phenomenal support from Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough, and Michael Sheen. Yet, it’s Michael Shannon as Texas sheriff “Bobby Andes” that makes the biggest dent. It’s hard to pick between Adams’ haunting regret, Gyllenhaal’s helpless determination, or Shannon’s (Oscar nominated!) consequences be damned ferocity.
The melodrama’s laid-on quite thick, in classic noir tradition. And the motives of these characters never push beneath an outer shell. But, between the picturesque presentation, a nostalgic score by Abel Korzeniowski, the scaring performances, and go for broke drama you’ll be too enthralled to care. Filmmaking that strips us bare and tears complacency asunder. ‘Nocturnal Animals‘ is the feel-awful film of the year.