Public Service Announcement: 'Nocturnal Animals' is Not a Thriller
I recently saw Nocturnal Animals with my gentleman companion, Captain America. We’re lucky enough to live in a city that it’s been playing in already so we didn’t have to wait for the upcoming wide release. I’d seen maybe one trailer for it, so didn’t have many expectations besides Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, and Tom Ford’s aesthetic based on A Single Man. I’m noticing a sharp uptick in the number of commercials for the film, probably because it goes into wide release soon, and I notice all of them seem to present the film as a nail-biting revenge thriller. Without reveling anything more about the plot or action I’m going to tell you that this is a lie: Nocturnal Animals is not a revenge thriller. If you want to see a revenge thriller movie, do not go see Nocturnal Animals. Some reviews have called it “thrilling.” This is true for very specific sections of the film, but not for the film as a whole. I am not going to properly review the film, but I will let you know it is a deeply introspective film centered around Amy Adams and her character’s romantic decisions that was beautiful if not totally satisfying.
I will now add a few spoilers for those who are actually interested in how the commercials could be so misleading. Mostly this is about the structure of the film, but some plot details will be revealed so if you want to go in blind then stop reading.
The way the trailer and commercial editors are pulling off this bait and switch is by taking advantage of a story within the story in the film. Amy Adam’s character, Susan, spends the film reading and contemplating a manuscript she received from her ex-husband, Tom, while reminiscing about their relationship. Both the ex-husband and the main character in the novel are played by Jake Gyllenhaal. The novel is about a man named Edward who’s family is attacked and his quest for justice afterwards. The trailer and commercials cut indiscriminately back and forth between Gyllenhaal as Tom (real in the context of the film) and Edward (fake in the context of the film) indiscriminately. That is how a film about Amy Adams having feelings about her ex-husband while moping around her very nice house or the art gallery she works at turns into a revenge thriller.
There are two sequences in the film that I would describe as genuinely heart-racing and they’re the biggest triumphs for Ford as a director. The first is the confrontation leading up to the attack on Edward and his family, which almost literally had me on the edge of my seat and bled tension. The second is a sequence at the end of Edward’s story. Again, neither of these things are “real” within the movie. They are part of a novel that is understood to be fictional.
I am very sorry for all the people looking for a good old fashioned tale of betrayal and justice who will walk into this film and immediately realize they made a huge mistake. The film actually opens with slow motion film of naked obese women dancing in majorette hats and boots as part of an art exhibition that Adams’s character is curating. Frame one lets you know that this is not the film that the commercials are selling. But I am also letting you know before you even step foot in the theater because frankly this kind of bait and switch is offensive to me personally and I want better things for all of you.
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