Review: 'Nocturnal Animals' Is Stunningly Directed, But Too Obvious

Kaly Connolly ’19 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer
“I think you should write about someone other than yourself,” Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) tells her then-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), in Nocturnal Animals.
“Everyone writes about themselves,” Edward responds. These become haunting words, as both Susan and the viewers absorb Edward’s violent, disconcerting manuscript.
Nineteen years later, Susan receives a manuscript from Edward’s finished novel: Nocturnal Animals. “For Susan,” is printed on the first page, making the manuscript even more personal—Edward used to call her a “nocturnal animal” for her tendency to be awake at all hours of the night.

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Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals. Photo Credit: Focus Features.
The movie proceeds to then play out in three separate storylines. First, there’s Susan, a gallery owner, with an immaculate home, an immaculate wardrobe, and a less than immaculate mental health.
Then, there’s the manuscript—the story of Tony Hastings (also played by Jake Gyllenhaal), his wife, Laura Hastings (Isla Fisher)—Susan’s lookalike—and daughter, India (Ellie Bamber). In the story, the family is run off the road in “Middle-of-Nowhere,” Texas by Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and two other hooligans. After an extended altercation, Tony is forced to watch Ray drive away with his wife and daughter and is stranded in the desert, unknown of their whereabouts.
Finally, a whole other layer of the story is carefully weaved in by director Tom Ford. It introduces the background of Susan and Edward, the beginning of their relationship, Susan’s mother telling her that it’s not going to work out—and viewers have the lovely hindsight to know that her mother is right—leading up to the eventual collapse of the relationship between romantic Edward and cynical Susan.
Jake Gyllanhaal in Nocturnal Animals. Photo Credit: Focus Features.
Jake Gyllenhaal in Nocturnal Animals. Photo Credit: Focus Features.
Nocturnal Animals, based on the novel, Tony and Susan, seems like a movie that should have been nearly impossible to bring to life. With three layers of storytelling unfolding, it is sometimes a bit forced, with Susan dropping the manuscript to the ground with a gasp, reveling at whatever horror Tony Hastings faced in the Texan wasteland.
However, to give credit where credit is due, even with the not-so-subtle connections between the life of Tony Hastings and Susan Morrow, nearly everything else about the film is pristine. The score by Abel Korzeniowski, the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey, and a standout cast all create a beautiful film—but who would expect anything less from designer/director, Tom Ford, even if it is only his sophomore directorial debut.
Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals. Photo Credit: Focus Features.
Amy Adams in Nocturnal Animals. Photo Credit: Focus Features.
Amy Adams shines as unhappy Susan Morrow with pristine hair, glistening and dark makeup, and an overall hopeless outlook on life. Her unrest is contagious as viewers watch her struggle to get through day-to-day life. Jake Gyllenhaal goes from a father desperate for justice to a hopeless romantic, struggling writer, and convincingly portrays both roles as completely separate entities. Another standout performance is Michael Shannon as Bobby Andes, the detective assigned to Tony’s case. He brings life into every scene that he’s in, making it hard to look away whenever he’s on screen—where he’s probably smoking a cigarette.
As Susan presses on through the manuscript, clearly shaken by the events unfolding on the pages before her, she’s taking it personally, for sure. She’d never seen her ex-husband write anything that wasn’t about himself, after all. The film, though, feels about as shallow as Susan’s existence, with the unhappy, wealthy woman and revenge story playing side by side.
Leaving the theater, you may feel as hopeless as Susan and Tony, which makes you appreciate what Ford has put together—even if it is a bit obvious in its presentation.
Overall Grade: B+
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