Saturday, December 24, 2016

'Nocturnal Animals' Is Generally Engrossing, Albeit Uncertain in Substance

Nocturnal Animals is a neo-noir psychological thriller about a Los Angeles-based art gallery owner named Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) who receives a manuscript from novelist Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), her ex-husband whom she hasn’t seen in years.  The manuscript tells the haunting story of how a man named Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) and his family’s West Texas road trip takes a nightmarish turn.  Susan, whose present marriage is deteriorating due to her businessman husband’s infidelity, is riveted and shaken by the novel’s content, forcing her to reminisce her past and evaluate her life decisions.

Above all, the performances are terrific.  If nothing else, this movie has Gyllenhaal and Adams at the height of their powers.  The rest of the cast, like Michael Shannon and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, did solid jobs as well.

This movie feels like a mix of the gritty and beautiful, as its cinematography creates an aesthetically compelling visual unfolding for its raw, angsty script.  Though the tricky, unsettling plot of this movie gets muddled and tedious at times, the fact that it’s pretty good to look at and that it’s hitting the right notes as a psychological thriller makes it a generally engrossing watch until the end.
The question of substance is another matter, though.  After one viewing, I’m not yet fully sure if this movie really adds up.  It probably requires another viewing or two (which I’m not quite willing to do for the time being) to “get it.”  Judging it as pretentious or masterful is likely hinged on how much the metaphor of Edward’s novel effectively connects to the “real world” events of the movie.  If it works for you, then this movie will work, too.  If it doesn’t work for you, then this movie won’t as well.

I don’t know how I will find Nocturnal Animals once I get around re-watching it.  But far as initial viewing goes, I think it’s a very well-shot film that showcases suspenseful drama, fantastic acting, and a potentially intriguing multi-layered narrative, but fails to leave an immediate, objectively gratifying impression to its audience.

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