Amy Adams is haunted by a novel sent to her by her ex-husband. The novel is a violent revenge thriller dedicated to her, she reads this as a veiled threat to her. Meanwhile she is struggling with her marriage to Armie Hammer.
Nocturnal Animals is an odd movie. It contains some of the best uses of imagery from 2016 whilst being hindered by a plot that doesn’t actually work that well. It contains some of the best performances in 2016 whilst half of the story appears to be actively trying to stifle the acting talent. At the end of it, I can’t say I loved Nocturnal Animals. But I certainly appreciated large sections of it. I was constantly entranced by the look of the movie, but I never fully engaged emotionally.
Nocturnal Animals biggest problem is that the story within a story setup just doesn’t quite work. The “real life” part of the story with Amy Adams reading the novel is ultimately not that interesting and completely wastes Amy Adams. It’s also hampered by using Armie Hammer whom continually proves that he cannot act. On the other hand the “fictional” part of the story – the visualisation of the book Adams is reading – is excellent. It’s a stripped back violent thriller in the mould of something like the Hills have Eyes. Jake Gyllenhaal delivers an unsympathetic but worryingly convincing turn as the weak and fairly pathetic “protagonist” and while I found it difficult to root for him personally, the wonderful Michael Shannon steps in and just elevates the whole movie onto a different level. Whenever Shannon isn’t on screen you miss him.
There are a few instances of some very nicely used linking imagery between the two sides of the story. Though these don’t quite make up for the fact that they don’t really work together it is another example that would suggest Tom Ford’s real talent is in directing and not writing. It has to be said that Nocturnal Animals is a fantastically well directed movie, it’s just not an especially well written one.
I’m really quite split over Nocturnal Animals, because on the one hand it commits the irredeemable crime of wasting Amy Adams (something only Batman v Superman had managed to do) but it also gives Michael Shannon a chance to really shine. Half of the story isn’t very engaging, but the other half is thrilling. It’s incredible to look at, but occasionally feels as though there isn’t any substance. Though it is a film that I want to revisit at some point.