Nocturnal Animals is a 2016 Neo-Noir directed by Tom Ford. I saw this in theaters back in 2016 and it instantly became one of my favorite films of all time. That theater experience is one I will never forget. I’m going to go in depth so if you haven’t seen this film watch it immediately!
In 2016 I was going to the movies at least twice a week. I was in college at the time and I was single. If my friends couldn’t go with me then I would go by myself. I didn’t see anything wrong with seeing a film by myself so it didn’t bother me. My mom felt bad for me and asked if she could go with me. She attended some showings with me and she saw some good films. Arrival is a good example and she liked that one. My mom is not into the films I like. She’s a simple woman who enjoys Hallmark and Lifetime films. Nothing wrong with that. She doesn’t like the weird artsy stuff that I enjoy. Nocturnal Animals is not her kind of film and throughout the runtime, I felt really bad that she was there with me and watching this weird and disturbing film. In the end, she wasn’t a fan and I completely understood.
The film starts off with large old women dancing completely naked with the score looming behind as the main credits appear. My mom looked over at me and made a “What the hell is this?” gesture and I laughed because how was I supposed to know this would be in the film? It wasn’t in the trailer.
The film is about a wealthy art gallery owner who is haunted by her ex-husband's novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a symbolic revenge tale. I can’t go any further without discussing the plot. I LOVE the story of this film. It’s a revenge film but it takes a unique approach. Susan, the main character, is given a manuscript of Edward, her ex-husband's, novel and it’s a disturbing and violent tale that we see unfold on screen. The film cuts back and forth between her reading the book, the events from the book shown, and then flashbacks of her past that gives us clues to how the book symbolizes her past relationship with Edward. It’s genius!
The book is titled Nocturnal Animals and it’s about a family of three, Tony, Laura, and India, who are traveling to another city in Texas. They’re driving on a deserted highway at night when they come across two cars hogging the highway in both lanes. After honking them off, one lets them pass. From then on the car drives the family off the road where they are stranded with no help. In an intense scene, which I’ll get back to, three rednecks, Ray the leader, Turk, and Lou, terrify the family and eventually separates Tony from his wife and teenage daughter. Ray and Turk take Laura and India away where they are raped and killed. Tony is dropped off by Lou in the middle of nowhere. Eventually Tony reaches civilization and gets a hold of the police where he meets Lieutenant Bobby Andes and they go search for his family. They find Tony’s family naked and dead on a red couch in the desert. The rest of the story, Tony and Andes search for the killers. Turk is killed, Lou is caught, but there is no sign of Ray. They find Ray and try to make him confess but he doesn’t. Ray is let go due to the DA not wanting to prosecute the case. Andes reveals to have cancer and has less than a year to live. He devises a plan with Tony to torture and kill Ray and Lou like they did to his family. They go through with the plan but Ray escapes while Lou is killed by Andes. Tony searches for Ray and finds him in the shack where his family was taken. Ray taunts Tony but Tony finally kills Ray, not before being hit in the face by Ray and being knocked out. Tony wakes up to Ray’s dead body and a busted eye. He goes outside, falls to the ground, and shoots himself in the stomach. Tony dies painfully like his wife and child. Goddamn… what a story. It’s even more brutal to see on screen.
Now the main storyline revolves around Susan and her lavish life in LA with her handsome husband. However, she isn’t happy. She receives the manuscript from her ex-husband and that’s when we see how the book and her past connect. Susan was once a young free spirit who refused to become like her mother. She runs into Edward and they fall in love. Her mother is cold hearted and begs her not to marry Edward because he’s weak and has no money. She doesn’t listen and marries him anyway. Then we see Edward struggle to become a writer and her lavish desires aren’t met with Edward. Susan meets Hutton and they have an affair. Susan then gets an abortion for Edward’s baby but Edward followed her and saw her there. Susan crushes Edward’s heart. They get a divorce and they don’t speak for twenty years. Susan has her lavish lifestyle and again she isn’t happy.
The book is a giant metaphor on how Susan ripped Edward’s heart out and stomped it in front of him. Ray represents Susan’s evil. He’s a repulsive villain who rapes and kills for fun. Tony’s wife and daughter represent Edward and Susan’s marriage and child. They are ripped away from Tony in a horrific way. Edward wanted Susan to know how he felt after what she did to him. The rest of his story is Tony dealing with his weak self and eventually overcomes that weakness by killing Ray. While at the same time, killing his old self. Holy shit… what a way to get revenge on someone. I love the idea of getting revenge by describing in a disturbing story how much that person fucked them up. It’s brilliant in every aspect of the way. In the end, after reading the book and going through her past, Susan realizes she made the wrong choices and wants Edward back because she would rather be loved than have the lavish lifestyle.
This film is full of amazing acting. I’ll go through and talk about the main cast of characters starting with….
Michael fucking Shannon. He delivers his best performance and the best performance in this film. He plays Bobby Andes, the police officer character in the story. Shannon plays Bobby as a tough guy who doesn’t take any shit while also being calm, cool, and collective. Bobby is the type of guy you’d want to hangout with and have a beer with while also wanting him to help you, especially in this case. Bobby feels bad for Tony and wants to give him justice no matter what. Every scene with Bobby is a highlight of the film. His monologue at the end is brilliant. I’m so happy Shannon was nominated for an Oscar for his performance. He deserved to win in my opinion.
Amy Adams is a standout as well. She plays Susan and she’s brilliant. Susan goes through different periods of her life and different emotional stages and Adams portrays all of them perfectly. In the end, I felt bad for her at the same time I didn’t. She should’ve been nominated for her performance but the Academy is usually wrong with their decision making.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays two different characters in this film. Edward and Tony. Each are completely different characters but they connect as one. Edward writes Tony as himself in his story of revenge. Tony gets more screen time and goes through A LOT. Gyllenhaal executes every scene beautifully. The monologue at the end where he’s crying in intense pain is heartbreaking. This is one of Gyllenhaal’s best performances in my opinion.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Ray, the villain in the story, and he knocks it out of the park. I fucking hate his character. He’s a vile piece of shit in every way. The fact that I hate his character that strongly shows how much of a good job Johnson did. He’s a standout due to his frightening performance. He won a Golden Globe for his performance and I think it’s well deserved.
The highway scene is one of the most intense scenes I’ve ever witnessed. It’s ten plus minutes long and it’s so hard to watch, even after seeing this film a dozen times. The way it escalates to such intensity showcases how good of director Tom Ford is. The acting is on another level, the cinematography and music add so much. I have a hard time sitting through that scene. The events that follow are dark and heartbreaking. It’s absolutely brilliant in every way.
Tom Ford…. MAKE ANOTHER FILM! No seriously, Tom Ford’s direction is some of the best I’ve seen. Every decision in this film works. The story could’ve been messy if made by someone else but Ford manages to pace this film and its story perfectly. He knows what he’s doing and I can’t wait to see what he does next.
The music by Abel Korzeniowski is beautiful. Each track elevates each scene into a whole other level. The cinematography by Seamus McGarvey also adds a lot to this experience. I love how the cinematography for the story is bright and vibrant while the scenes with Susan are cold and lacking color. color. It’s brilliant! Everyone who worked on this film deserves so much praise!
The ending is iconic. Susan emails Edward and asks to meet up with him. He agrees and she goes to a fancy restaurant and arrives first. She sits there patiently waiting as the music swells behind her. After a while everyone in the restaurant slowly leaves and she is finally left alone. Edward doesn’t arrive. We get a final shot of her tear filled eyes and it cuts to black. What a perfect ending.
All in all, I cannot recommend this film enough. It’s a dark Neo-Noir with perfect acting and a brilliant story. It’ll always be an all time favorite of mine!