Nocturnal Animals – Review (*** 1/2)

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If you ever felt the need to watch Aaron Taylor-Johnson take a dump and dispose of the muddy toilet paper on-camera, this might be the movie for you.

Some seven years after hitting big with his stupendous, Oscar-nominated feature debut A Single Man, fashion designed-turned-filmmaker Tom Ford returns with a less-satisfying yet nevertheless engrossing, superbly-acted meta-drama that, while perhaps not the big awards player many were expecting, could certainly still carve out an underdog campaign for the ever-brilliant Michael Shannon.

Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript from her distant ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), a violent pulp thriller which Susan can’t help but interpret as symbolic of their devastating break-up. Cutting between Susan’s real-world woes and the progression of Edward’s novel (which also stars Gyllenhaal as the protagonist, Tony, and Shannon as a dour Detective), Susan becomes increasingly disturbed by her past and comes to worry for her future.

Ford’s sophomore feature is another stylistically robust drama soaked in rich emotions and welcome ambiguity, even if at its core it is a pretty daft melodrama that just so happens to boast gorgeous cinematography from the brilliant Seamus McGarvey and a quartet of memorable central performances.

The sense of the interplay between past, present and fiction will likely not be immediately apparent to many viewers or perhaps indeed until some time after the film is over, Ford opting to indulge in plenty of incident but not too much in terms of A-to-B-to-Z explanation. The pic is formulated more as an ensemble-driven tableau, where ultimately audiences really need to draw their own meaningful conclusions.

And indeed, Nocturnal Animals really is an ensemble piece; Adams and Gyllenhaal are remarkable as the respectively icy and emotive leads, but it’s Michael Shannon who runs away with the film, popping up every so often to provide hilariously matter-of-fact assessments of Tony’s situation, and veering as close as the movie gets to self-awareness. It’s exactly the sort of chirpy, hilarious performance that attracts Best Supporting Actor consideration.

Braced peculiarly yet comfortably between handsome, classy drama and B-movie silliness, Nocturnal Animals may struggle to completely please a single demographic, but it’s a distinct, sumptuous, strongly-performed dramatic thriller that lingers long in the mind.

*** 1/2

Nocturnal Animals is in UK cinemas November 4th and US cinemas November 23rd


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