Nocturnal Animals Reviewed By Jon E Clist


The Premise
A "story inside a story," in which the first part follows a woman named Susan who receives a book manuscript from her ex-husband, a man whom she left 20 years earlier, asking for her opinion. The second element follows the actual manuscript, called "Nocturnal Animals," which revolves around a man whose family vacation turns violent and deadly. It also continues to follow the story of Susan, who finds herself recalling her first marriage and confronting some dark truths about herself.

The Review
Well… what to say about Nocturnal Animals? Wow, this is something rather special as far as an interesting and enthralling storyline wrapped up by a collection of outstanding performances that have been captured and edited to perfection.

The nature of this film relates to a story within a story that is also blended with flashbacks and therefore it takes focus to keep on top of things. For Jake Gyllenhaal’s character, a beard and clean shaven face helps distinguish timelines. It is based on the book, "Tony and Susan" written by Austin Wright. It was first published in 1993 and although not successful upon its initial publication, in 2010 the book was released in the UK and enjoyed a critical revival which in turn lead to it being reprinted in the U.S.

I went to the preview of this film with fellow Big Screener Clayton Barnett and I think to give you another perspective we should grab a comment from him.

“Nocturnal Animals had me gripped, not only thanks to Tom Ford’s sumptuous visuals but also his twisted script. Just when you’re hooked in Gyllenhaal’s intense revenge story-within-a-story, it flips back to the equally engrossing tale of Adams’ life slowly falling apart. It’s a masterful hand that can keep you hooked when someone’s just reading a book.” - Clayton Barnett

I love that Tom Ford decided to come on board this project as his previous film A Single Man was outstanding and with this addition to his cinematic resume Ford is building a strong film portfolio. It certainly helps that Ford has so far been able to pick great casts that are able to deliver his creative vision and do amazing justice to these well written characters.


While he was able to lean heavily on brilliant performances from Colin Firth, Julianne Moore and Matthew Goode in A Single Man, here he has an even larger acting palate to draw on. While Gyllenhaal and Amy Adams are super amazing in the central roles there are some mind-blowing characters given a real depth of life through the always brilliant Michael Shannon and spectacular Aaron Taylor-Johnson. This is a cast that film makers all over the world would be extremely jealous of. Taylor-Johnson is so good at being bad and Shannon is the perfect flawed good guy. Without these two in the midst this could have been a completely different film.

The dynamics between all the actors is rather electric and I feel strangely ripped off in finding out that Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal had been cast in another project called 'Ezekiel Moss' which would have been directed by Philip Seymour Hoffman. However, the project was scrapped after Hoffman's death in 2014. That feels like a winning formula that has now gone begging. Interesting to note that this is Gyllenhaal’s 35th film and yet it doesn’t seem all that long ago that he was in his breakthrough role of Donnie Darko, what a great career he is having.

It is not just the actors and script that has made this a brilliant piece of cinema. The cinematography is something wonderful to experience. It is dark, it is gritty, it is beautiful and the stage is set so brilliantly with one of the most amazing and weird opening sequences that feels as though it is twisting the Bond title treatment formula in order to amaze, challenge and create discomfort within the audience.

The Verdict
Intriguing storylines performed to perfection brings a dazzling yet challenging cinematic experience. Brilliantly dark, yet hopeful, yet dark.

The Trailer

The Info
Releases: 10th November 2016
Rating: R16 – Contains Violence, sexual violence, offensive language & nudity
Duration: 117 minutes 
Genre:  Thriller
Starring: Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Jake Gyllenhaal, Armie Hammer, Michael Shannon, Amy Adams, Laura Linney, Ellie Bamber
Director: Tom Ford (A Single Man)

The Extras
Focus Features paid $20 million for global distribution rights after a heavy bidding battle in Cannes. This is the highest amount ever paid for a film at a festival.

Laura Linney replaced Kim Basinger.

George Clooney originally signed on as a producer, but ultimately backed out.

Originally, Tom Ford intended to make two films based on Wright's novel: one which departed from the source's original story, and another which stuck to it.

Joaquin Phoenix was considered for a role, but eventually dropped out.


Jena Malone, who plays a character with last name Ross, played Gretchen Ross in Donnie Darko (2001). Also starring Jake Gyllenhaal.