Friday, December 9, 2016

Nocturnal Animals

By George M. Thomas

Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon in Nocturnal Animals.
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS is a deft, intelligent, and twisty rumination on relationships and the expectations that come with them.

Hitchcockian in design, director Tom Ford crafts a suspenseful tale blending several story elements, all of which grab the viewer in a way that makes them wonder from where, exactly, this story will arrive.

Through it all, everyone in the cast provides compelling performances as Ford takes the audience through several worlds; one cold, austere and filled with loneliness, another alive with hope and potential, and a third that’s scarier than hell.

Amy Adams, in her second award worthy performance of the fall, stars as Susan, an art gallery owner with a seemingly successful husband (Armie Hammer) who appears to have it all. The reality is something altogether different.

She sacrificed her relationship with ex-husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) for her shot at happiness.  They, however, parted with too many strings flailing in the wind regarding the destructive behavior that dominated their marriage.

Then out of the blue, Tony sends her a manuscript of his soon-to-be published novel.

She’s engrossed as the piece unfolds - a brutal tale of a family separated and hit with tragedy - by some of the scummiest characters to grace the screen this fall movie season.

With her marriage teetering on the brink, Susan recalls this Tony, so full of life, potential, and ability before he wrote this opus.  His words seduce her, making her call into question the life that she’s chosen.  She reads.  She craves.  She remembers.

Through it all, Ford weaves two completely disparate tales. Or are they really that different from one another? Ultimately, that’s for the viewer to decide.

What is obvious, however, is that Ford, directing from a script he adapted from a novel written by Austin Wright, has created layered story with compelling characters at every turn.

Adams takes Susan on a journey that’s not altogether unlike a visit through Charles Dickens’ 'A Christmas Carol' and the trip that his ghosts take Ebenezer Scrooge on.  She takes her from wide-eyed naif to a calculating woman who believes herself to be entitled to everything.

Gyllenhaal as Tony takes a journey as well, but it turns out to be one of self-discovery as the vulnerability his character shows manifests itself in fascinating ways. 

Through it all, colorful characters, including a police officer portrayed by Michael Shannon, keep the proceedings beyond interesting.

NOCTURNAL ANIMALS  represents the kind of film – sexy, intelligent, captivating – that used to show up in theaters year round.  It’s a reminder of how challenging a good thriller can be.

Director:  Tom Ford
Cast:  Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon,
Studio:  Focus Features
Rated:  Rated R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language
Running time:  116 minutes
George’s rating: 3-of-4 stars

Check for theaters and showtimes at Atlas Cinemas, ClevelandCinemas, and

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