Art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript for a novel written by her ex-husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), along with an invitation for dinner during his upcoming visit to Los Angeles. Nocturnal Animals follows Susan as she navigates through her strained relationship with her husband (Armie Hammer), while at the same time becoming completely consumed by the manuscript, which is dedicated to her.
The film bounces between three separate narratives. In the first, we follow Susan, whose idyllic life has been thrown into duress when she suspects her husband of adultery. Upon Susan receiving the manuscript from Edward, we follow a series of flashbacks chronicling the relationship between the two form lovers. The third, and by far most interesting narrative, is the story within the story, as we see the manuscript play out before us.
Adams gives a very nice underplayed and subtle performance in the role of Susan, but as we are not given any real reason to care for her from the start, it is ultimately hollow in its efforts. Within the flashbacks we see a very different Susan, whose demeanor is warmer, and whose intentions are purer, and while this is meant to demonstrate the transformation of her character, we are still left with a protagonist with whom we can not really relate.
On the contrary, the story we see in the manuscript is a tense, captivating thriller that deserved one hundred percent of the film’s screen time. That story follows a family of three who are terrorized by group of hoodlums while on a road trip in the middle of the desert (not too dissimilar to the 1997 Kurt Russell film Breakdown). Gyllenhaal, who performs double duty as the ex and the novel’s protagonist, gives a stellar performance here, as does Michael Shannon, who portrays the local sheriff. I don’t want to give too much away about the story, but I will say that I would have gladly watched two hours featuring their characters, as two actors are dynamic together. The film benefits from a number of great performances, including Aaron Taylor-Johnson, portraying to main antagonist in the story within the story. Interestingly, Isla Fisher, who is often mistaken for Amy Adams, is cast as Gyllenhaal’s wife here (a stand in for Adams’ character), a casting move that was no doubt intentional. It was nice to see Michael Sheen and Laura Linney pop up, though neither were given much screen time to work with. It was nice to see Michael Sheen and Laura Linney pop up, though neither were given much screen time to work with.
While the story of Adams’ examination of her life, and how it is affected by the receiving of the manuscript, is ultimately disappointing (particularly in its conclusion), the film is more than saved by the secondary storyline with the manuscript. The film as a whole is worth watching, but on second viewing, you may just want to utilize the scene selection option on the Blu-ray and skip to to the good stuff.
Like many Blu-rays these days, there is little to offer here. The bonus features consist of three short segments under the heading “The Making of Nocturnal Animals”:
- Building the Story- This featurette essentially breaks down how the three stories intertwine, which is pretty obvious if you’ve watched the film.
- The Look of ‘Nocturnal Animals’- This is a fascinating look at the use of color and composition, highlighting director of photographer Seamus McGarvey’s work
- The Filmmaker’s Eye: Tom Ford- Director Ford Breaks down some of the film’s nuances and character developments, though it feels like we’re sitting in on a pitch meeting.
- Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD
- BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc
- 1080p/AVC MPEG-4
- English DTS-HD MA 5.1
- French DTS 5.1
- Spanish DTS 5.1
- English SDH, French, Spanish