The night is dark and full of… nocturnal animals? A violent, brutal, tension-filled ball of fury, Nocturnal Animals is a sight to behold. Telling a story within a story, think The Princess Bride but a lot more fucked up, the movie is about a woman named Susan (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript of a novel dedicated to her from her estranged ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Susan hasn’t spoken to Edward in 20 years after leaving him for the much more handsome Hutton. Once Susan begins reading the novel, she becomes transfixed with it and begins thinking back to her past relationship.
So reading that, it might sound like some sappy love story but it is the farthest thing from it. Susan is a depressed “artist” and I put artist in quotes because her “art” is literally just a bunch of disgusting old obese women dancing around butt naked. And I mean BUTT ASS NAKED. It’s pretty horrifying, and it is displayed over the opening credits so it is literally the first thing you see from the movie. I will never unsee those fat droopy tits and FUPAs flopping around. Yuck. Anyways, yeah so she’s a depressed artist married to an unfaithful businessman. This is the real world, but the bulk of the movie and what really drives it are the scenes that take place in Edward’s story.
The movie cuts between Susan and her life in the real world and Edward’s book while she is reading it. The book is about a man named Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal) who suffers unspeakable tragedy and violence at the hands of Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his two goons. Tony is helped by Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to track down Ray and his men to bring them to justice. The story is so dark, so brutally violent and unapologetic it is impossible to look away whenever we enter that world. It really sucks you in, and has a different feeling than it may have in a different movie because we know the whole time this is a fictitious world. So when something terrible happens to a character it is shocking, but you look at it as if you were reading a book. It’s a very strange feeling but one that I was totally into. So yeah I really enjoyed the story, and it would have been so easy to make it confusing or awkward switching back and forth between reality and the book world, but it really isn’t. It flows perfectly, telling enough of the story at a time so that you get your fill, let’s you take a breath by going back to Susan’s world, and then jumping right back in.
The acting is also incredible, most notably Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Michael Shannon. Shannon was nominated for the Best Supporting Actor Oscar and Taylor-Johnson won the Golden Globe in the same category, both incredibly deserving. Taylor-Johnson’s Ray is a truly despicable character, with no redeeming qualities to speak of. And you can just see how much fun Aaron had in playing this psychopath. He’s a real piece of shit, one that you will love to hate. And he is downright scary, an unpredictable maniac, but also believable. Michael Shannon is just a badass cowboy detective in Bobby Andes looking to help Tony get the justice he deserves. Andes toes the line when it comes to the legality of his actions, occasionally stepping over them, but you are always rooting for him. Shannon has an intimidating persona about him, and it’s nice to see him get a role where he can really excel. He’s a damn talented actor, and I hope to see him in more films after this.
Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal are also predictably good, but they are a bit overshadowed by their supporting actors. Amy isn’t given a whole ton of a lot to do, and her scenes serve as the lower key moments of the film. Her story serves as the reprieve to the brutal nature of the book, but she is good in every scene she is in. Gyllenhaal is given more to do as he plays two roles, but the meat of his performance comes as Tony and he is very good. He brings a lot of emotion to the role, and there is some great back and forth between him and both Shannon and Taylor-Johnson.
Nocturnal Animals is a damn good movie. Sure it’s very dark and brutal, but all of the violence occurs within the story of a book so you always have that in the back of your mind that what is happening isn’t real in the world of the movie. It’s just a really interesting story, one that has hidden meanings as you learn more about Susan and Edwards past relationship. There are some strange moments, most notably the fat naked dancing women, that are a little distracting but it doesn’t take away from the film as a whole. The movie makes you feel dirty after watching it, and I mean that as a compliment.
My Score: 8.5 out of 10