Review: “Nocturnal Animals”

Posted by Michael Parsons on December 8, 2016 in / No Comments


Reason to watch: Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon

Gripping for a stint, but overall curiously pieced together, “Nocturnal Animals” is a decent thriller adapted from the novel “Tony and Susan” by Austin Wright. Having not read the book, I have no doubt that the translation to celluloid was a difficult undertaking—director Tom Ford’s production has its drawbacks in the pacing department—but even when the story skips a beat, Jake Gyllenhaal’s raw performance makes it worth a view.

The film follows Susan (Amy Adams), a fairly pretentious art dealer who wears enough mascara to create a cold facade over her typically angelic  visage (though I’m never entirely convinced). She receives a draft of her ex-husband Tony’s (Gyllenhaal) novel entitled Nocturnal Animals, which has been dedicated to her. It is sensed early on that this manuscript isn’t going to read like a love letter.

Dark and violent, the main plotting of the film is within the pages of Tony’s book, as Susan imagines it. It’s a horrific tale that follows Edward–envisioned as Tony by Susan– who suffers an unspeakable  tragedy on a remote roadside at the hands of three violent delinquents. The gang is led by an exceedingly icky Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose character seems to have walked straight out of “Last House on the Left”. Edward’s wife nocturnal-animals-movie-posterand daughter (Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber, respectively) are kidnapped and Edward left stranded and helpless. Imagine the worst, and that’s it.

A not-so-subtle metaphor is unfolding; Adams’ character periodically reacts to the story with a visceral jolt, signifying that whatever caused their separation must have been  traumatic enough to inspire such an unpleasant story. In her reality, current boyfriend Hutton (Armie Hammer), for whom she left Tony, is having an affair. Fairly inconsequential, compared to the Gyllenhaal show.

In the book, Edward ends up partnering with a no-nonsense cop (Michael Shannon), who’s ready to dispense some off-the-books justice. Their relationship spans a year, when they get a lead on the suspects after a bank robbery goes south. Edward becomes cold and focused, like his counterpart, whose own history seems to be manifesting in a vicarious revenge plot. Shannon has an entrancing graveness about him, a sinister-looking, quietly intimidating person. His deep eyes penetrate with menace; his demeanor is inherently unpredictable. As expected, the actor lends major intensity to the movie.

But Gyllenhaal steals the show:  when Edward’s seemingly calm disposition unravels and the brewing rage emerges, the actor unleashes a   performance that recalls (and then surpasses) his roles in “Prisoners” and “Southpaw”. So even when the story’s layering begins to fail, these actors demand to be appreciated.

– M. Parsons

Posted in

Michael Parsons

Father. Realtor®. Movie nut. After pestering my parents for their commentary on “Star Wars” when I was four years old, my mind went into a creative frenzy. I’d imagined something entirely different than the actual film, which I didn’t end up seeing until its 1979 re-release at the Uptown Theater in Washington, DC. This was my formal introduction to the cinema.

During that long wait, which felt like an eternity to a child, my mind was being molded by more corrosive stuff like “Trilogy of Terror” and “Rosemary’s Baby”, most of which I’d conned various babysitters into letting me watch on television ( I convinced one poor lady that “Jaws” was actually “Moby Dick”).

The folks were pretty strict in that regard, so the less appropriate it was for a kid to watch, the more I was fascinated by it. Horror staples like “Halloween” and “Friday the 13th”, as well as lesser-known low-budget fare like “Madman”, “Sleepaway Camp” and “Pieces” all ended up sneaking their way into the VHS on a regular basis.

Since then, I’ve developed an obsession with the entire film industry. Even though I watch and review a wide breadth of films these days, my appreciation for the campy, poorly lit micro-budgeters still lends itself to my evolving perspective on movies just as much as the summer blockbusters and Oscar contenders. As I recall my trips to the movie theater, I realize that this stuff is about much more than just a fleeting piece of entertainment.

A couple years ago, I was finally given the opportunity to lend my opinion on films to a publication, The Rogers Revue, with a subsequent run at Reel Film News. It's been both a privilege and a gateway to what we’re doing now. Most of my experience has come from interviewing independent filmmakers, who consistently promote innovation. The filmmaking process is grueling and relatively unforgiving.

Fellow film enthusiast Eddie Pasa and I have created DC Filmdom as a medium for film reviews, discussion, and (inevitably) some debate. And so, the creative frenzy continues.

(Michael is a member of the Washington, DC Area Film Critics Association).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *