Plot: What’s it about?

I heard a lot of pre-buzz on Nocturnal Animals, and the cast certainly caught my eye, but I was careful not to read too much about the general premise. This just seemed like one of those movies best enjoyed by knowing as little as possible going into it. At least to me it did. For this reason, I had no idea that it would contain a story within a story, but we’ll get to that part later. It does contain some very interesting elements and I always applaud a unique story in this day and age plagued with sequels and remakes, but it never quite comes together in a satisfying manner. It’s certainly an ambitious film, but the end result feels incomplete and somewhat lacking.

Tom Ford directs this film starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams. There’s also the story within a story which also stars Gyllenhaal and Isla Fisher. Adams plays Susan Morrow, she’s an art curator who is married to Hutton (Armie Hammer), but their relationship isn’t at its best and he always seems to be pulled away on business. One day Susan receives a novel in the mail from her Ex-Husband, Edward Sheffield (Gyllenhaal). The novel is titled Nocturnal Animals and we see this story play out over the actual film as Susan reads it. The story from the novel features Gyllenhaal also, but in the novel he plays Tony Hastings. His wife in the novel is played by Isla Fisher and they have a daughter and are terrorized by some hicks on a deserted road as they’re driving one night. For those familiar with both actresses, Fisher and Adams do favor each other quite a bit. This is obviously to show that Edward’s novel features elements similar to Susan’s life. This did throw me at first as I swore Adams was playing a dual role as well. I admit that the story based on the novel intrigued me a lot more than Susan’s story, but at the same time it didn’t. That might seem like a strange contradiction, but I knew the whole time that I was watching the novel played out within the film. This stripped a lot of the tension for me. I almost wish I had just seen that entire film played out without the other story. Michael Shannon does good work here as the ailing Detective trying to help Tony bring justice to what happens to his wife and daughter. Gyllenhaal does good work in both roles as well, but as mentioned, I knew I was watching a novel within the actual movie. With that knowledge in my mind, I just couldn’t give into the film. It doesn’t help that we keep getting dragged back to Susan’s story and flashbacks with her and Edward. Susan’s mother clearly wants more from her daughter and doesn’t think Edward is in her league. Eventually we get to the conclusion of the novel and then we cut back to Susan’s story which has a more ambiguous conclusion that I won’t delve into. Ultimately, Animals features several interesting elements, but they never quite mesh.

Video: How’s it look?

We get an AVC encoded 2.40:1 transfer that does the film justice. Details on faces and background shots remained strong as did the colors. The print is clean and free of flaws, not that a recent film should have them, but you never know. All things told, this transfer gets the job done and accompanies the film in a satisfying manner.

Audio: How’s it sound?

The DTS HD track works well enough, but don’t expect anything too powerful. It seems a bit more limited than some more recent films I’ve come across. At no point does it fail to engage, but I just expected a bit more range. There are some scenes that are more intense where the rear channels kicked in, but mostly this is dialogue driven. It’s serviceable, but could’ve been better.

Supplements: What are the extras?

  • Building the Story -Tom Ford and actors examine central characters and how they fit into the story.
  • The Look of Nocturnal Animals – Filmmakers and cast discuss how the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey and costumes by Arianne Phillips give the film such a distinct and rich feel.
  • The Filmmaker’s Eye: Tom Ford – See how Tom Ford’s attention to detail adds layers to the interwoven stories at the center of the film.

The Bottom Line

Certainly an interesting film, but not entirely satisfying. Nocturnal Animals might’ve fared better if it settled on one story over another. The story within a story element might sound good on paper, but it robs the film of some suspense. The acting from everyone is top notch, but this isn’t something I’d return to. A rental is the strongest endorsement I can offer.