ReelBob: ‘Nocturnal Animals’

By Bob Bloom

“Nocturnal Animals” is a muddled, though stylish, drama about guilt, regret, revenge and isolation.

The movie is beautifully crafted by director Tom Ford, yet underneath the glamour is a cold and confusing feature that fails to connect with viewers.

The film stars Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal as a divorced couple who discover dark truths about their relationship, each other and themselves.

The conduit for all of this is a manuscript that Gyllenhaal’s Edward, a struggling author, has written and sent to his ex-wife, Susan (Adams).
This novel is a violent story of murder, rape and redemption set in West Texas.

The movie continually jumps from Susan, who is seen mostly alone in her big, sterile Los Angeles home, to her imagining the brutal story that she is reading.

In between are flashbacks to her courtship and life with Edward.

And while all this sounds intriguing, Ford fails to create an emotional relationship with the audience.

“Nocturnal Animals” feels clinical and distant; it’s more an autopsy of a failed relationship and Susan’s disappointment with her life.

Even Ford’s penchant for stunning visuals cannot compensate for the film’s inability to make you care about any of these people.

The movie has some fine moments, but fails to gel overall; it feels fragmented and jagged. Ford, for all his effort, cannot seamlessly blend its brutality and poetry, nor its sophistication and decadence.

This is one of those features that offers more questions than answers.

Despite Ford’s constraints, Adams and Gyllenhaal produce admirable work.

Adams, especially — who usually provides warm and appealing performances — is excellent as Susan, who seems to look back on her life with regret and a bit of self-loathing. She continually holds her emotions at bay, emitting a steely veneer that is her armor in hiding her hurt and disappointment in the hand life has dealt her.

Gyllenhaal, basically, plays two roles — Edward, the struggling author who, though aware of Susan’s overall sadness — still is infatuated and in love with her enough to overlook what he senses could be a doomed relationship.

He also plays Tony, the manuscript’s protagonist; a loving husband and father who is transformed by tragedy into an avenging angel with the help of a veteran Texas lawman (Michael Shannon, in another strong supporting performance.)

Yet, when the final credits roll, you walk out of the theater dissatisfied. Instead of experiencing a cinematic journey, you feel you were either a plaything in a maze or were simply going around in circles.

Bob Bloom is a member of the Indiana Film Journalists Association. His reviews appear at ReelBob ( and Rottentomatoes ( He also reviews Blu-rays and DVDs. He can be reached by email at or on Twitter @ReelBobBloom.

1½ stars out of 4
(R), language, violence, nudity, sexual content