Nocturnal Animals: A Movie With No Beginning, Middle or End

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The opening sequence of Nocturnal Animals shows a naked woman shaking her morbidly obese body for a lot longer than is comfortable to watch. Obviously, the filmmaker’s not a fan of audience focus groups or he would have discovered,not only that grotesque bodies don’t do it for most people, but also that style can’t hide a lack of depth and convoluted storytelling kills tension stone dead.

Susan (Amy Adams) is a Los Angeles art gallery owner married to Hutton (Armie Hammer), a stockbroker. Susan suspects her husband is cheating, and when he doesn’t turn up for her latest show, the cracks in their relationship are laid bare. Hutton leaves for another business trip, which is when Susan receives a package from her ex-husband (Jake Gyllenhaal). The package contains a copy of the novel he has just finished, which he has dedicated to her. She sits down to read and the novel steps off the page and onto the screen.

nocturnal animals poster.
Nocturnal Animals poster.

The book is a ghoulish tale about a family who get kidnapped and the story is interlaced with present day events in Susan’s life, together with flashbacks of the demise of her marriage to her ex-husband. Obviously the three storylines are meant to reflect and impact on each other but, unfortunately, they don’t, and all that’s created is a patchwork of scenes that have nothing to say. To add to the confusion, the protagonist in the novel is played by Gyllenhaal, whose role in the kidnapping bears no resemblance to his role in his wife’s life, then or now.

Another major flaw of this film is that the main characters are passive and never pursue their goals, assuming they actually have some. Susan meekly lets her husband abuse her and Gyllenhaal (in the novel) is a victim who spends an inordinate amount of time crying. After the kidnapping, he licks his wounds for an entire year and his pity party would have undoubtedly continued had he not been galvanized into action by the local Sheriff (Michael Shannon), whose wry portrayal of a cliché is a welcome relief from the melodrama of this unsurprising tale.

With so many unrelated story threads and so much enigmatic symbolism, not least the tortuous burlesque at the beginning, the denouement obviously has a lot of work to do but, amazingly, the filmmaker decides not to bother with such banality. Doors are left open, keys unturned and if the credits hadn’t rolled, it’s quite possible the audience would still be sitting there. This abstract, slice-of-life style might work for a French audience, but the rest of us prefer a story that has a beginning, a middle and, yes, that’s right, a flipping end.

Release Dates

United Kingdom Nov 4, 2016

Ireland Nov 4, 2016

Australia Nov 10, 2016

Croatia Nov 17, 2016

Hungary Nov 17, 2016

Italy Nov 17, 2016

Norway Nov 18, 2016

Poland Nov 18, 2016

Sweden Nov 18, 2016

United States Nov 23, 2016 (limited)

Portugal Nov 24, 2016

Canada Nov 25, 2016

BulgariaNov 26, 2016

Netherlands Dec 1, 2016

Singapore Dec 1, 2016

Spain Dec 2, 2016

Finland Dec 2, 2016

Russia Dec 8, 2016

Bulgaria Dec 9, 2016

Lithuania Dec 9, 2016

Turkey Dec 9, 2016

United States Dec 9, 2016

Germany Dec 22, 2016

Brazil Dec 29, 2016

Belgium Jan 11, 2017

Israel Jan 12, 2017

Greece Jan 26, 2017

Estonia Jan 27, 2017