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Nocturnal Animals (2016)

Universal Studios Home Entertainment
Blu-ray Disc Released: 2/21/2017

All Ratings out of





Review by Mike Long, Posted on 2/7/2017

What movie holds the record for having the most people walk out of the theatre in the shortest amount of time? (Just an FYI, I've only walked out of one movie in my entire life -- Anaconda.) I don't know the answer to that question, but I would venture to guess that Nocturnal Animals is in the Top 5. The film opens with some imagery which will be very shocking and off-putting to some and you'll wonder if you're watching the right movie. But, that's just the beginning, as those who stay until the ending may wish that they'd walked out earlier, as the film offers a finale which is questionable. The point thus far -- Nocturnal Animals is a movie with a great deal of problems.

Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) runs an art gallery in Los Angeles, and lives in a gorgeous home with her husband, Hutton (Armie Hammer). But, things aren't what they seem to be on the surface, as they are having financial troubles and there is tension between them. Susan is surprised when she receives a package from her ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), which contains a galley copy of a novel which he has written which is entitled Nocturnal Animals. With Hutton out of town, Susan decides to read the book, which pertains to a family traveling through rural Texas who are besieged by a gang of toughs, ending in tragedy. As Susan tries to make it through her day, she keeps going back to the book, as she re-enters the world of a man who is desperate to find either justice or revenge.

Nocturnal Animals presents us with two stories in one movie. The first story introduces us to Susan and her life. We see that she is not happy in her marriage and that she's concerned about the gallery. Somewhat relieved that Hutton is on a trip, she dives into the book, despite the fact that she finds some of the material disturbing. Over the next few days, Susan attempts to maintain focus on her real life, but she keeps thinking about the book and Edward. She looks back on their relationship, examining the beginning and the ending. Susan's story is intercut with the movie's other narrative, which takes us inside of Nocturnal Animals, which we see through Susan's eyes. She imagines the book's main character, Tony Hastings, as looking like Edward. We see Edward and his family (Isla Fisher and Ellie Bamber) attacked by a gang lead by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). Following this, local policeman Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) assists Tony in bringing the attackers to justice.

The problem with Nocturnal Animals is very simple -- neither of these stories is particularly interesting. With Susan, we have a successful and apparently formerly rich woman who is not happy with her current relationship. The arrival of the novel makes her re-evaluate her time with Edward and see things in a different light. It's difficult to feel sorry for her and her story is not very original. The tale in the novel gets off to a very rocky start when Tony actually stops on an abandoned highway when he is confronted by Ray. He could have simply kept driving. This one idiotic decision really taints the story, and while the results of Tony's decision are tragic, the fact that they could have easily been avoided is difficult to escape. Once Andes enters the picture, things get odd (and not just because of Michael Shannon's presence), but because we aren't exactly sure what his motivations are. In any event, it's difficult to feel sorry for Tony and his story isn't very original.

Fashion designer turned filmmaker Tom Ford is behind Nocturnal Animals, having directed the film and adapted Austin Wright's novel for the screenplay. He certainly brings some style to the film, both in the costumes and in the atmospherics. Some are very subtle, such as how Susan's look changes over the years, and some are uncomfortably heavy-handed, such as when Susan is standing in front of a painting which proclaims "REVENGE". His attempts to give the movie some flair are admirable, but the story really gets left behind. If there are supposed to be parallels between the two stories, they are murky at best and get lost in translation. (Does Tony's loss reflect the dissolution of Susan and Edward's marriage? If so, that's far too on the nose.) The movie's inconsistency comes to a head with the finale, which is very open-ended and open to interpretation. Here's a clue -- If I'm not 100% sure what your movie is about, it's not a very good movie. Nocturnal Animals does boast an impressive cast and everyone does great here, most notably Gyllenhaal, who is asked to play two very different characters, but they can't overcome the weak narrative, which offers a lot of story, none of which is satisfying.

Nocturnal Animals begs you to skip the first chapter on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Universal Studios Home Entertainment. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 35 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing no overt grain and no defects from the source materials. The colors look good and true to the film's style, are strategically place amongst Susan's dark world and the bleached world of the novel. The image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail is good and the depth of the image is impressive. The Disc carries a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 4.0 Mbps. The track provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The only truly notable scene is the car chase, which offers obvious surround and subwoofer effects. There are a few scenes where the stereo effects are notable. The score, which is heavy-handed at times, sounds fine.

The lone extra feature on this Blu-ray Disc is "The Making of Nocturnal Animals" (11 minutes), which is a split into three parts: "Building the Story", "The Look of Nocturnal Animals" and "The Filmmaker's Eye: Tom Ford". Here, we are treated to comments from Ford (who has his P.G.A. credentials behind his name for some reason), Gyllenhaal, Adams, Fisher, Bamber, Taylor-Johnson, Hammer, and some other members of the creative team. Keeping with the stylized feel of the movie, the interviews are shot in black & white, contrasting them from the colors movie clips. There is very little behind-the-scenes footage here, but the speakers do delve into how the narrative and the visuals were approached.

Review Copyright 2017 by Mike Long