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Review: Nocturnal Animals – A symbolic snapshot of current-day America

Nocturnal AnimalsIf you are like me and you firmly believe that nothing good ever came from a late-night trip across the plains of Texas, then the unconventional new film, Nocturnal Animals, is certainly not going to change your mind.

I’m pretty sure writer/director Tom Ford didn’t plan it this way, but this intensely violent and smart thriller seems particularly timely in fly-over America’s hateful, cuck-calling climate. It’s not much of a stretch to say that this film is an ingenious and symbolic snapshot of our country’s current state of affairs – and it’s not a pretty picture.

The movie begins with a sequence that seems like it might have been extracted from a fevered dream by director David Lynch, with an art show opening that involves videos of plus-size women dancing nude while simultaneously lying naked and motionless on gallery tabletops as New York elites mingle among them with wine glasses in hand.

It’s weird, to say the least, and it will keep you in a WTF state for most of the movie; but stick it out with an open mind and the scene will eventually make sense (for me it took until after I left the theater.) The bottom line is that after the opening credits run you know you are in for something decidedly different.

Amy Adams (who is having a very good year) plays Susan Morrow, a high-brow artist with an arrogant, cheating husband (Armie Hammer) and a privileged life that is dark and unfulfilling. She receives the manuscript for a novel written her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), an aspiring author who wants to get her feedback on his work.

Nocturnal AnimalsWhat follows are stories within the story as the narrative switches between Susan’s past, her present, and Edward’s Nocturnal Animals manuscript that involves a man having his family kidnapped, raped and killed in the-middle-of-nowhere, Texas; which in the end is allegorical to Susan’s former relationship with Edward.

Add to this mix a show-stealing performance by Michael Shannon as Texas Detective Bobby Andes – who helps Edward’s Nocturnal Animals counterpart, Tony Hastings, find his family’s killers – and you’ve got a thought-provoking, edge-of-your-seat thriller.

The film also co-stars Aaron Taylor-Johnson as the leader of a group of west Texas hooligans; and Laura Linney as Susan’s estranged, overbearing mother. The cast is overall excellent with the primaries (Adams, Gyllenhaal and Shannon) delivering award-worthy performances.

This film’s storytelling style may sound somewhat confusing, but Tom Ford does a masterful job of juggling all of the pieces as he delivers an intelligent, entertaining, neo-noir experience that explores beauty in ugliness and strength in weakness – and vice versa. Grade: 9/10

Photos © 2016 Focus Features

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About the author

Bob Leeper

Bob Leeper is the co-owner and manager of "Arizona’s Pop Culture and Alternative Art Network," Evermore Nevermore. He is the co-creator of the pop culture events Steampunk Street and ENCREDICON, and is a member of the Phoenix Film Critics Society. He also curates the Facebook fan site The Arizona Cave – AZ Fans of Edgar Rice Burroughs, and is one of the few brave and bold fans of Jar Jar Binks.