Nocturnal Animals (2016)
Critic Consensus: Well-acted and lovely to look at, Nocturnal Animals further underscores writer-director Tom Ford's distinctive visual and narrative skill.
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as Edward Sheffield, Tony Hastings
as Susan Morrow
as Bobby Andes
as Ray Marcus
as Laura Hastings
as Hutton Morrow
as Anne Sutton
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Critic Reviews for Nocturnal Animals
Ford delivers a tiresomely weird drama that's pitched somewhere between the cinematic realms of directors David Lynch.
Writer-director Tom Ford, in his second movie (following 2009's "A Single Man"), can't connect the dots on an emotional level.
"Nocturnal Animals" is, I think, a beautiful mess, but I might have to watch it again to be sure.
Designer turned director Tom Ford uses his gift for striking visuals to create a must-see.
Trying to weigh this spellbinding film's multifaceted carnage is a mesmerizing experience that requires as much soul-searching as detective work.
Audience Reviews for Nocturnal Animals
Former fashion-designer Tom Ford took his first steps into film directing with A Single Man in 2009. It's a film that didn't initially catch my eye but when I finally caught up with it, it really impressed. In fact, I thought it a near masterpiece of style and composition. As a result, I've been very eager to see what Ford would do next and although his follow-up isn't quite as good as his debut, there's still much to recommend. Plot: Wealthy art curator Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). As she settles into reading Edward's story, she is forced to confront her past and the breakdown of their relationship as the story within the manuscript turns violent and deadly. Based on the novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright, there's a clever structure to Nocturnal Animals. It's a story within a story and not being content with that, it also employs flashbacks just to make it more narratively complex and frames it's all as three stories in one. The stories aren't vignettes or separate, though. They are very much related and feed into each other as the film addresses the differences between past and present and the fine line between reality and fantasy with one fictional story even serving as a metaphor for another. It's quite an ambitious project for Ford in only his second film but he's able to keep command of all the narratives and manages to combine a reflective drama with a mysterious, psychological thriller while bringing it all together to make a complete and coherent whole. It's not just Ford's narrative juggling that impresses, though. There's plenty to admire throughout the entire film; Ford's direction is ambitious and, like his work in A Single Man, he has a keen artistic eye with some vibrant and striking imagery captured by Christopher Brown's art direction, Seamus McGarvey's sombre cinematography and the gorgeous production design by Shane Valentino and Meg Everist invites you into the characters' dark, dual existences without ever losing its consistent tone. It also boasts a very impressive cast who are all on good form; after her anchoring work in Arrival, the always reliable Amy Adams delivers another reserved performance; the Oscar nominated Michael Shannon manages to convey so much with the minutest facial expression and Golden Globe winning Aaron Taylor-Johnson tackles a darker role, that he's not normally associated with. Put simply, he knocks it out the park and I hope that Johnson continues to explore more of his range in the future. Like the performances themselves, there are so many layers to Nocturnal Animals that it stays with you long after the credits have rolled. It's had its critics with many claiming style over substance as a major issue. Personally, I disagree, and happen to think it has an abundance of both. It's a very well crafted film that's awash with symbolism and has you continually questioning it's meanings and messages. A complex and elegant love story that successfully interweaves with a sadistic film-noir. Tom Ford has shown that A Single Man was no fluke. This a director with sophistication and one that delivers material that's as dense as it is captivating. Mark Walker
Fashion designer Tom Ford made a big splash with his debut film, 2009's A Single Man. It was a gentle and introspective character study of a middle-aged gay professor determined to end his own life. It was lush, full of feeling, and anchored by a deeply humane performance from Colin Firth. In short, it is everything that his follow-up Nocturnal Animals is not. This is a movie overflowing with vacant artifice that is mistaken for profundity. Susan (Amy Adams) is an art gallery owner and living a posh life with her second husband, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer). She gets an unexpected present in the mail from her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). He's sent her his newest manuscript, a departure from his usual works. It's dedicated to Susan. With Hutton away on business, and philandering with a mistress, she dives into the story. It tells the story of Tony Hastings (also Gyllenhaal) and his wife (Isla Fisher) and teen daughter (Ellie Bamber) traveling through west Texas. They run afoul of some contemptuous locals lead by the sadistic Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), who kidnaps Tony's wife and daughter. Left for dead, Tony teams up with a terminally ill police officer, Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon), to hunt down Ray and make him suffer for his crimes. As Susan continues reading, she goes through a mixture of emotions trying to determine what her ex-husband is trying to communicate to her within the subtext and metaphor of his sordid story. I grew increasingly restless with Nocturnal Animals because it failed to justify its excessive dawdling and vapid artistic pretensions. This is a movie that doesn't really know what it wants to be so it dabbles in many different genres, none of them fully convincing or worth the effort. It's a high-gloss erotic thriller, it's a gritty exploitation film, it's a morally compromised revenge thriller, and it's a subtle relationship drama amidst the upper crust of the L.A. art scene. It's none of these. It's two primary stories, neither of which justifies the amount of time spent on what amounts to so little. The worst offender is the frame story with Susan, which amounts to watching Amy Adams read for two hours. She takes a lot of baths and showers in response (symbolism!) but most of the cutaways and time spent with Adams is to merely watch her react. It's like she's a nascent studio audience handcuffed to tell us how to feel with her reactions. Would you have known that you should feel bad during onscreen death if we didn't cut back to Susan also feeling bad and concerned? It amounts to emotional handholding and it's grating, also because Susan is an terrible character. She's conceited and thinks she is owed better, which is why her mother successfully pressured her to dump Edward, a man well below her self-styled station in life. Her second marriage is crumbling apart and part of her sees Edward's out-of-the-blue note as a potential romantic rekindling. That's right, this is a person who reads a revenge opus that may be all about seeking cosmic vengeance against her, and she thinks to herself, "Ooo, I think he like likes me after all." Her self-involvement is rewarded in the end but the ambiguous ending is more just missing in action. Ford's film just peters out and leaves you hanging, just like its heroine. Edward's manuscript is easily the best story and even that is only by default. It's an easier story to get involved with because of the simple story elements that naturally draw an audience in, namely a revenge fable. The initial altercation with the family and Ray's crew lasts almost a half hour. Specifically the roadside confrontation itself is a solid ten minutes and it just goes round and round, repeating its overdone sense of menace. I wasn't dreading the horror to come but more so getting impatient for it to be over. Without depth to the characters or escalating stakes and complications, it all just amounts to a Texas hillbilly repeatedly threatening a cowering family for ten solid minutes. The vengeance in the second half of the movie is just as predictable and too drawn out. Edward schemes with Bobby Andes to take justice into his own hands, but the movie takes far too long to reach its predictable conclusion, which still manages to be so drawn out that I was screaming at the screen for the inevitable to finally happen. When the movie ended I felt a rush of relief to go along with my general sense of perplexity. Nocturnal Animals has the illusion of highbrow art mixing with lowbrow thrillers but it lacks the substance of the former and the courage of its convictions for the latter. Ford's mercurial taste in costuming and set design shows in every moment with Susan, as the sets feel exquisitely designed and the cinematography designed to encapsulate this. It's a good-looking movie but there's not enough under the surface. It's all empty window dressing to disguise the vapid whole at its center. Let's tackle the opening credits, which will most certainly capture your undivided attention. It's a foursome of overweight women dancing naked and in slow motion, their large bodies bouncing and jiggling to the self-serious musical score. Eventually it's revealed that these women are part of an installation exhibit in Susan's art gallery, and that's when you get a tip-off just how hollow and attention seeking the movie will be. The gallery consists of overweight women lying face down on raised platforms. That's it. No wonder her gallery isn't doing that well (note: not a fat-shaming comment but more a comment on the lazy application of its sense of "art"). You get a sense that Ford comes most alive in the scenes where he can arrange figures and images, not so much the demands of storytelling. I can already hear supporters saying I just don't get it; no, I got it because there's very little to understand with Nocturnal Animals. It's a story-within-a-story so we're already training our brains to look for parallels but they aren't obvious so they'll be more metaphorical. I kept waiting for it all to tie together in a substantial way by film's end, and sorry but it just doesn't (spoilers ahead). Edward has a whammy of a day when he discovers 1) his wife is pregnant, 2) she's aborted his child, and 3) she's in the arms of her new boyfriend, and he discovers all of this standing in the rain for further symbolism. He has a grievance against Susan, though we've been suspecting it for some time. His manuscript is a revenge thriller about a family murdered and how a weak man finds the strength to seek justice and retribution. The parallels are fairly obvious there, and the fact that there are only so many characters in the story-within-a-story means there are few options to play the analogue guessing game. I'll just claim that Ray is meant to represent Susan since he/she is the murderer of Tony/Edward's family. There's a reason that Tony's family all share Susan's red hair. He dedicated the book to her, after all, and said she was who made it all possible. From there you could argue whether Tony represents Edward's real past, weak and remorseful, whereas Bobby Andes is meant to represent how he wishes he could be, decisive and strong (end spoilers). That's about all the parallels you're going to find because the story-within-a-story only involves a very tiny number of characters. There just isn't much to go on here and yet Ford's movie stretches and drags and just keeps going until it reaches its predictable destination. There isn't any more depth here than straightforward avatars and even those are lean. I was debating a question with my friend Ben Bailey while we watched this movie, and that's whether the stakes are removed somewhat when you know that a storyline within a movie is fictitious. Knowing that Tony is a pretend person, does that eliminate some of the tension and investment in his storyline? I recognize this is a distinctly meta question considering that a majority of film characters are fictitious by nature, but I do think there's a different set of standards for the people of the story-within-a-story. I don't remember feeling less for the characters in A Princess Bride, The NeverEnding Story, or Adaptation. My only conclusion is that I just did not care a lick for any of the characters in Nocturnal Animals, whether they were fictional or twice fictional. They didn't deserve my attention just because pretty people were playing them. They didn't deserve my attention because Big Bad Things caused them to experience Big Emotions. Combined with the ponderous plot and the emaciated substance, the dull characters and the overwrought acting they inspire are a recipe for audience detachment. I can't help but shake my head as other critics trip over themselves to shower this film with overly enthusiastic plaudits. Nocturnal Animals is a tiresome exercise in lazy symbolism, patience-demolishing pretension, and emptiness masquerading as contemplation. Nate's Grade: C-
The dialogue is a little bit heavy-handed sometimes, but still Tom Ford brings us a sophisticated and well-acted thriller about marital disillusion and resentment, blending reality with "fiction" using stunning scene transitions, superb editing and a gorgeous cinematography.
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