‘Nocturnal Animals’ attempts to create a pseudo-noir film (review)

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When it comes to describing the genre of film noir, I think Roger Ebert said it best:

“One difference between film noir and more straightforward crime pictures is that noir is more open to human flaws and likes to embed them in twisty plot lines.”

I love great film noir. The idea of a dark and dreary world, clouded by injustice and a dame to kill for, is my kind of movie night. So hearing about Tom Ford’s latest film creation, Nocturnal Animals, it sounded like a film right up my alley. But does the film live up to the hype that’s been created for it?

Nocturnal Animals is the tale of a successful Los Angeles art-gallery owner, Susan (Amy Adams), whose idyllic life is marred by the constant traveling of her handsome second husband. While he is away, she is shaken by the arrival of a manuscript written by her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal), who she has not seen in years. The manuscript tells the story of a teacher who finds a trip with his family turning into a nightmare. As Susan reads the book, it forces her to examine her past and confront some dark truths.

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Tom Ford, an American fashion designer, film director, screenwriter and film producer, wrote and directed the novel-to-screen adaptation. Based off the 1993 book, Tony and Susan, Ford creates an other worldly atmosphere with the film, incorporating his sense of fashion mixed with his eye for film. Nocturnal Animals is a slow burning film that Ford inescapably places you, the viewer, in a state of uneasiness along side the cast on-screen. His intense build-up in each scene does end up running a bit dry, however, as the film progresses, as the scenes begin to become predictable. Your sense of excitement and anticipation fall away to shoddy acting and foreseeable outcomes.

I’m not a huge fan of Amy Adams. I’ll just put that there. Her acting seems to always cause her to seem overreaching at times, and less than genuine. It wasn’t until I saw her in this year’s Arrival did I regain faith in the woman again. Her performance in that film had me head over heels for the actress, and knowing that she was in this film was part of the huge draw for me. Now, I’ll admit this: she was alright in this film. Not great, but not bad. Her raw emotional moments in the movie kept me interested in her character, but as mentioned before, her scenes began to become predictable. I was hoping for a reappearance of the actress that I had seen a month earlier, but to her credit, this was better than other previous performances she had done.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t a fan of Jake Gyllenhaal in this movie. One thing that Gyllenhaal tends to do in most roles that he’s in is that he exudes innocence. I’m not saying that he’s not capable of joining the dark side, but his roles are normally being a good person in a bad situation. I couldn’t see him as someone  who could take the bull by the horns, per se, and becoming the hunter rather than the prey. His performance felt a little forced at times, and unnatural, when he was trying to portray someone in charge. Although he is obviously trying his best in the role, I don’t think he was a good pick.

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There were a few things about the film that I did enjoy. I think one of the best performances of the film came from Michael Shannon, who played Lieutenant Bobby Andes in the manuscript. His Texas accent mixed with his unique style of investigating made for the moments he was on screen great. Shannon has been batting a thousand in terms of 2016, with several great performances so far including Midnight Special, Frank & Lola, and Complete Unknown (we’ll try to forget his role as Elvis in Elvis & Nixon). This is another notch on his belt in terms of an outstanding display of Shannon’s ability to create multi-dimensional characters.

Overall, the film did leave me wanting more, and not in a good way. As the credits rolled, I sat up and began wondering where this film fell in terms of film noir. I definitely got tastes and glimpses of the genre, but the film began to become overly predictable, leaving me as the moviegoer feeling like the film was lacking. Film noir is “open to human flaws and likes to embed them in twisty plot lines,” yet the film seemed a bit too polished to feel like I could easily define it as such. Adams did well, Shannon did exceptionally well, but Ford created too much of a neatly wrapped box with a pretty bow on top for me to feel like the endurance of the characters ran out at the end of the film.

Rating: 2.5/5 Atoms

NR 2_5 Atoms - C-

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Eddie Villanueva Jr.
Eddie Villanueva Jr. 308 posts

A movie connoisseur of only the finest films, and an Encyclopod of geek and nerd knowledge. And if you know what an Encyclopod is, you're cool too!