First Hit: Outstanding acting in a film that lives to the feeling of its name.
The opening credits are viewed on the backdrop of one of the oddest art displays I’ve ever seen. The display is of very large and overweight naked women dancing live. The rest of the exhibit is of live heavy women in various positions on platforms in the gallery.
The art gallery owner is Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) who lives with her husband in an amazingly large modern house in the LA/Hollywood hills. Her husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is distant from her, appears to be wealthy, but also indicates there’s money trouble. His illusive and distant behavior points to something else going on in his life and then he abruptly tells Susan he has to go back to New York for business.
Susan receives a package from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal) and it is a book he’s written. She opens the book and sees that it is dedicated to her and the title, “Nocturnal Animal”, was Edward’s nickname for her. As she lies awake in bed, she begins reading the book hoping to help her sleep. However, the story is very intense and it peaks her interest immediately.
From here the film slips in and out of the book’s story, the present time of her reading the book, and past reflections of her former husband and their life together. The past story is about how much she loved Edward and finding that her mom, Anne Sutton (Laura Linney), may have been right that eventually Susan would seek out someone more financially successful and strong than Edward.
The book’s story is very intense as it describes Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal in a different role), his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) being driven off the road during a road trip through Texas. The men shoving them off the road Ray, Lou and Turk (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Karl Glusman and Robert Aramayo respectively) are local miscreants known for having a slightly troubled past.
The story continues where they give the Hasting family a hard time and end up separating Tony from his wife and daughter. Eventually finding assistance, Sherriff Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) takes the case to help Tony find his family. Finding them raped and killed, Tony is crushed while Andes makes it his focused mission to find the killers.
As the film slips from the present of Susan reading the book, to her memories of her relationship with Edward and then to the intense book she’s reading, you can tell that she’s unhappy with her current lot in life, and wants to accept an invitation offered to her by Edward to meet for dinner.
She says yes to the dinner invitation and doesn’t seemed surprised by the outcome.
I really liked the way this film moved between the three different sets and scenes. The coolness and sadness of the current time, the intensity and fury of the book’s story of Tony, and the ideal and joy in Susan and Edward’s budding relationship of the past. These stories and their settings were wonderfully choreographed and delivered. Additionally, the transitions between them were wonderfully done.
Gyllenhaal continues to deliver top notch performances. The way he delivers his two characters which have a common theme was excellent. This is an Award worthy performance. Adams, is divine. She’s perfect as the hauntingly beautiful “Nocturnal Animal”. Sitting in the theater, I could feel her struggle. Just as with her role in “Arrival”, Adams is showing everyone why she is so good. Shannon is really on his game here. I’ve really come to appreciate his work and here as an intense, "I don’t give a fuck" sheriff, he’s wonderful. He is this role. Fisher and Bamber were wonderful as Tony’s wife and daughter. I also loved how director Tom Ford used their red hair to tie in Adams’ character as well. It created connections and a tie between the book and Susan’s current life. Hammer was perfect in this small role. Taylor-Johnson, Glusman and Aramayo were great as the books antagonists and the way for Tom to express his rage and gain strength in the end. Linney is perfect as Susan’s well-healed mother. Her look and use of language was great. Ford wrote and directed this film with a clear vision for what he wanted. His effort is worthy for Award consideration to say the least.
Overall: This is a dark moody, thriller that really worked.