Cinematic Releases: A Manuscript Best Served Cold - Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Though the idea of a fashion designer writing and directing a film may sound odd on paper, Tom Ford has proven the naysayers wrong with his newest film Nocturnal Animals. The film encompasses two genres--stylish neo-noir psychological character study and hyper-tense gritty thriller. He accomplishes this by using the "story within a story" trope, but both sides of this cinematic coin are so compelling that it's impossible to catch one's breath while viewing it.

One half of the narrative concerns a rich art gallery owner named Susan (Amy Adams) who is having trouble connecting to her incredibly handsome but distant second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). She receives a novel manuscript in the mail from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) and reading it brings to the surface repressed emotions from their past troubled relationship. The film depicts the events of the manuscript while she is reading it with Gyllenhaal doing double duty by portraying the protagonist Tony Hastings as well. This second story plays out not unlike No Country for Old Men (2007), with a harrowing plot and a dusty West Texas locale. What makes this dual plot interesting is the contrast between Susan's removed-from-reality high society artsy lifestyle and the down-and-dirty realism of the manuscript. It resembles a reverse The Neverending Story (1984) as we watch Susan brought out of her fantastical life into the plight of Tony's character.

Gyllenhaal's performance as both the romantic and mild-mannered Edward and the frenzied and grief-stricken Tony is absolutely fantastic. He is incredibly intense and emotional when he needs to be and I am always amazed at how much range he has as an actor. Adams is excellent as well, though her part of the story demands a more low-key performance. She is able to convey a quiet suffering that is both affecting and poignant--though at times it is hard to feel empathy for a character who is so unaware of the emotional damage she has caused. Edward's manuscript is essentially a metaphor for how their relationship played out and the script switches back and forth between the two themes seamlessly.

I hear they're looking for a new Wolverine. Cast me. 

It's not surprising that a film made by a fashion designer looks great, but Ford's eye for color and proportion definitely helped give Nocturnal Animals a stylish atmosphere. The camera framing is artful and the dichotomy between the vibrant art-house world of Susan and the sepia-toned desert of the manuscript is drastic. I really enjoyed the editing as well as it always seems to pick the perfect spot to switch to the opposite storyline for effect. The first third of the film is especially well paced and the tension is sky high. Abel Korzeniowski's minimal score is an excellent accompaniment and it has a strong melody with a recurring theme that unites the two different plotlines.

I think that some viewers might be put off by the way that the narrative is constructed because it attempts to marry two very opposite genres of film. Those who approach the film with an open mind will find much to unpack and might find that Nocturnal Animals sticks with them long after the intriguing conclusion.


-Michelle Kisner