I Watched Nocturnal Animals.
Tom Ford’s brilliant work on A Single Man was enough for me to want to see this film, sight unseen. There was something about that film that froze me, one of those timeless and memorable moments where, as the credits rolled, I was unable to pull away from its grip or its magnetism. The visual aesthetic was rich and its beauty palpable at all turns. From the brief screens that I saw, I knew this film would be rife with his perfectionist, buttoned up style. Very shiny and sleek and meant for a large screen and a quiet watch.
The cast here for Nocturnal Animals is remarkable as well, recruiting Amy Adams in another minimal but powerful role which is expected from her, but in no way marginalizes the achievement. Strong restraint there. Michael Shannon’s rugged West Texas sheriff is strong and full of the salt of life of character acting, while Aaron Johnson (Aaron Taylor-Johson now?) pulls a whole new card out of his deck while portraying a truly wicked vagrant who’s rotten core makes him unrecognizable.
And then there’s Jake Gyllenhaal, a man who has taken the driver’s seat in a series of roles that are strange and challenging and nuanced and has made each of them vibrate and shimmer with vivid blood. From Prisoners to Nightcrawler to Demolition, any of these characters could have been played in a quirky, accidental-comedic fashion. Jake reins them all in, bottles the soul of these darker and ambitious personalities into a jar and stirs up a storm that you can watch from arm’s length and marvel at. This character is no different, a man who’s life is throttled in a single night and his singular purpose is for justice or vengeance, whichever comes first.
Nocturnal Animals’ story isn’t far and out the most original, but the layers in tact play well side by side. In the present day Amy Adams is in a stale relationship with a trophy husband, struggling to find a pulse in her life whether it’s with him or without him. It seems as if she’s drifted far from her deliberate path, somehow afloat in her career that she no longer loves. She’s going through the motions but doesn’t sleep, trapped in a life she’s built of her own devices. She plays the emptiness marvelously, both exposing her malaise to friends but wearing the resolve in her everyday skin to continue her work. After receiving an early copy of a book from her ex-husband, she reads through it nightly, devouring it and it brings her to life again. It ignites a part of her that drives her to reexamine those decisions that have brought her here, and to try to rebuild the bridges that she’s burned in her journey. This fresh story awakens emotions inside of her that she no longer thought remained. A strong series of scenes revolve around a small seed planted by her mother on the weakness of Edward (her ex-husband) and the repetition of this concept is driven home deafeningly.
“The things you love about him now are the things you’ll hate.”
This is a concept that jumped out at me in a huge way, something that spoke to me both on a personal level, and one that I’ve seen repeat itself with friends and colleagues alike. After hearing it, it echoed in my head repeatedly, playing multiple episodes of my own experience on a loop.
The tableau here in Edward’s book (titled “Nocturnal Animals) is the bulk of the film’s plot, where we watch the events play out. A man goes on a drive through west Texas with his family, encounters men who terrorize his wife and daughter and the aftermath of the chase, the apprehension, the prosecution and the conclusion of that circle. I don’t want to go too deeply into the plot because this isn’t meant to be a synopsis. But Edward’s book, his characters and its events all seem to be a metaphor for how Susan left him and the impact it’s left on him. He paints a strong image of loss, of the road back and the culmination of the lessons learned across that rebirth.
Fantastic film overall, one I highly recommend watching, if only to watch yet another spectacular turn for Jake Gyllenhaal. Visually, some of the night shots are desolate and adjacent to the morning sunsets across rolling arroyos, it paints a stunning picture of desert life and the isolation that Edward/Tony/Gyllenhaal was experiencing. Ford does it again, brilliantly.