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Nocturnal Animals [2016], the second feature film from director Tom Ford, sees two stories presented in one artful package. Adapted from Austin Wright’s novel 'Tony and Susan', Amy Adams plays Susan, a successful Los Angeles gallery owner stuck in a tired second marriage. After receiving the manuscript of her ex-husband’s debut novel, the story within its pages is played out as she reads. With the events of the book gripping her conscience, the miseries and mistakes surrounding Susan’s first marriage are revealed in flashback.

Performance Particulars: Amy Adams is having yet another career magic moment in the second half of 2016, with her performance in Nocturnal Animals expertly crafted. As events progress, she transitions from wonderfully cold to exceptionally paranoid with great skill. Jake Gyllenhaal can also be praised for tackling two meaty roles; playing the novel protagonist, Tony, and Adam's writer ex-husband, Edward. As both characters represent themes of revenge and justice, Gyllenhaal does well to link both of their stories and nurture the dark heart of the feature. The real hidden gem is arguably Laura Linney, appearing in a minor role as Adams’ Southern Republican mother. Only in one brief scene, her critical and conservative remarks pack a punch as she sends her daughter down the path of self-destruction that will define the remainder of the film.

Risks of Adaptation: Tackling two complex narratives concurrently within a two-hour feature could be seen as a challenge for a relatively new director, but Ford just manages to pull it off. The transitions between the character of Susan in the present day, Susan during her first marriage, and the events of the novel are seamless. A fairly even amount of attention is given to each subplot. With so much to explore, it was almost inevitable that certain areas within the plot would slightly fall flat. The events within the manuscript Susan receives are at first gripping, but slowly became overworked and a little lackluster as the narrative progressed. Excellent performances from Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon are enough to save this portion of the film from sinking, but its flaws are still apparent. This dip cannot definitively be seen as a fault of the film, however. Despite the film being adapted and constructed by Ford, the fault could lie within the writing of the original text. It is entirely subjective.

Cinematic Parallels: Something that is hard to ignore upon viewing Nocturnal Animals are some striking similarities between the film and Nicolas Winding Refn's psychological horror vision The Neon Demon [2016]. These similarities are often stylistic – the opening sequences of both films are glittery and lush, the coloring used in each is vibrant and slick, and both directors can be seen as crafting a distinct piece of art through the medium of motion picture. There are also other parallels between the two – both feature a straight-talking, no-nonsense Los Angeles creative environment, while Jena Malone and Karl Glusman make appearances in both films in supporting roles. Nonetheless, despite these parallels, Nocturnal Animals ultimately takes a darker path. While The Neon Demon delights with stomach-turning shocks and sheer eccentricity, Ford’s film relies on thematic subtlety and deeper psychological twists. Ford has clearly pushed himself since A Single Man [2009], producing something more memorable and rich.

Nocturnal Animals is a stylish success, with psychological twists that linger at the back of the mind.

Nocturnal Animals
4.0Overall Score
Reader Rating 3 Votes

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