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Nocturnal Animals: A Thriller Worth Seeing

WEST LONG BRANCH, N.J. – I’ve always been a Jake Gyllenhaal fan. From Donnie Darko, to Brokeback Mountain, to Nightcrawler, Gyllenhaal has progressed and thrived in complex and dramatic roles that continually challenge his talent.
Gyllenhaal’s promising work is what initially drew me to Nocturnal Animals, a film that’s out now in select theatres and available everywhere for viewing December 9th. The film is based off of a book, Tony and Susan, written by Austin Right in 1993. It’s directed by the acclaimed Tom Ford, who is more well known for his role as the creative director of popular luxury brands like Gucci and Yves St. Laurent.
The plot of the film centers on Susan Morrow, a wealthy and prominent art collector whose struggling to navigate the unhappiness and dissatisfaction in her own life. When she receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband, in which he dedicates the novel to her, she begins reading his dramatic, violent tale of a family torn apart by murder in the heart of Texas. Much of the movie centers on the novel that Susan’s ex, Edward Sheffield, has sent her, in which Jake Gyllenhaal plays a husband and father destroyed by grief and rage.

Image courtesy of CinemaBlend
Image courtesy of CinemaBlend

From the beginning, the film opens very eclectically, with large, dancing naked women on screen that we later come to find are a part of Susan Morrow’s art show. The aesthetic of the film is incredibly interesting; it’s both experimental and accessible. The cinematography choices were compelling as well; each shot was considered carefully, framing the characters and creating their personas in ways that made them very personal to the audience.
Something that I truly enjoyed was how much Sheffield’s novel, sent to Susan, really feels like a book. We have our protagonist, on his journey toward redemption and justice, and our token bad guy, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, an incredible actor himself. The actor’s present themselves like book characters—we are cued into the fact that the work is fictional, but there is also a suspension of belief, an overwhelming curiosity at how this storyline fits into the broader narrative of the film.
Gyllenhaal had a difficult role to play—he was both Edward Sheffield and the character in novel he’d written. Thus, he played two different roles within the same movie, and was able to separate them and act distinctly within each one. I expected Amy Adams to shine through a bit more, but her acting fell short of Gyllenhaal’s, who, in her defense, had a broader range and more screentime in the film.
Image courtesy of Teaser Trailer
Image courtesy of Teaser Trailer

I’ll have to admit, I’m not the biggest fan of thriller movies. I like them, I’ll watch them, but I don’t actively seek them out. Oftentimes it seems these movies are recycled versions of one another, overdone and wildly unrealistic, with endings an audience can foresee coming from very early on. I was pleasantly surprised with Nocturnal Animals. It extended beyond all of my initial expectations; and I had high ones, considering the cast. The entire film was filled with suspense, and at no time did I have any expectations of what would come next. In several scenes I was on the edge of my seat. Ford directed a movie that was suspenseful, original, and wildly entertaining.
Ultimately, “Nocturnal Animals” is a must-see, no matter what kind of movie-goer you are. It’s a pleasant surprise, a break from the norm, and a movie that adds to the incredible range of Jake Gyllenhaal as an actor.