When I first heard about this movie, I thought it sounded really interesting so I immediately ran to the source material, Tony and Susan. You may remember I reviewed that novel back in October. (You don’t? No worries. Click HERE to read the review.)
Sadly, I didn’t make it to the theater in time to see the film, but I did manage to finally watch it the other night on DVD.
If you’re unfamiliar with the premise of the movie, Susan Morrow is a successful art dealer and gallery owner. Her marriage seems strained at best, and business seems to be on the decline. This is particularly troublesome because she and her husband live a rather lavish lifestyle. Susan appears introverted, troubled, tense, and perhaps even a touch cold to the outside world. She soon receives a manuscript from her first husband; they divorced twenty years ago. It’s his first novel ever to be published, and he wants her to read the advance copy.
She begins reading the novel which is titled Nocturnal Animals. Immediately, she recognizes the many parallels between the main characters and her own life with her ex-husband. Like the source material, the film’s novel features a family man named Tony who is driving along a deserted road with his wife and college-aged daughter. They get into an altercation with some punks, and things get very upsetting very quickly.
The movie proceeds to focus primarily on Tony’s story but also visits Susan as she reads the novel and reflects on what purpose her ex-husband is trying to achieve by sending it to her.
So, the big question … should you see this movie?
On the one hand, it is every bit as thrilling as the novel. Aaron Taylor-Johnson plays Ray, the primary thug destroying Tony’s life, and he perfectly encapsulates Ray’s insanity and utter evilness. I couldn’t believe it was the same actor from Godzilla and Avengers: Age of Ultron. Taylor-Johnson is oddly charismatic and frightening in this role.
Jake Gyllenhaal plays both Tony from the novel and Edward, Susan’s ex-husband. I haven’t seen many of Gyllenhaal’s movies, but he really impressed me in this onel. By far the best performance I’ve seen from him. He totally delivered Tony’s tentativeness, his torture, but also his obvious intelligence. This is a man on the brink … but we don’t know exactly what brink, which is what makes him so mesmerizing.
Michael Shannon portrayed Bobby Andes, the main detective trying to pin down Ray and his band of cronies. Shannon did well with Andes, but there wasn’t much of him in the movie. Not as much as I remember from the book.
Finally, Amy Adams played Susan Morrow. We all know Adams is a superb actor, but she simply wasn’t given much to do as Morrow. The movie’s version of Morrow rendered her aloof and a touch disassociated. Always immaculately dressed with impeccable hair, Morrow appeared too perfect, too rigid, too restrained. In fact, if we’re being honest, I saw her more as a facsimile of Tom Ford himself than an interpretation of the book’s Morrow.
Speaking of which, Tom Ford, the director, has created a beautiful film. He provided an engaging and horrific rendition of Tony’s awful circumstances. Everything involving Ray, Tony, and Bobby Andes oozed suspense.
Unfortunately, his take on Susan Morrow turned her into someone unrecognizable from the book and ultimately unlikable. You see, in the book, Susan taught college English. She read most of Nocturnal Animals on her couch. She really came off as a regular person with relatable characteristics. By turning her into a statuesque, terse business woman, Ford transformed Susan into someone for whom the audience could not sympathize. Perhaps he did this on purpose.
Also, Susan’s world in the movie is pristine, avant-garde, and, in some cases, strange. For example, the very beginning of the film starts off with a show at her gallery, and it is … discomforting, to say the least. I can’t decide if Ford simply suffused his own world into Susan’s, or if he purposefully wanted us to subconsciously side with her ex-husband as she read the novel.
Though Nocturnal Animals looks great throughout, and though the scenes involving Tony and Ray were riveting, the parts focusing on Susan detracted from the movie as a whole, interrupted the suspense, and lacked any emotional resonance.