Nocturnal Animals is a flick I knew nothing about prior to seeing theatrically last year. I had never heard of it before so when the press screening invite arrived in my inbox it was very much a surprise to me. I saw that Amy Adams was in it and decided to give the trailer a spin. She has been in everything else last year (BvS, Arrival) so why shouldn’t I continue rolling with her like we were besties. The theatrical trailer looked very promising and rather Texan (in reference to the cowboy hats and scenery). However, what sealed the deal was the fact that Oblivion‘s Vika (Andrea Riseborough) was also in it. She’s one of my favorites so I signed up without anymore knowledge than that! Therefore I decided to give it a try and the next slew of paragraphs you’ll spend with me below sums up exactly how my time was with Amy and the rest of the star studded cast of Nocturnal Animals, which arrives on Blu-ray and DVD February 21st.
Nocturnal Animals is a 2016 American psychological thriller film written, co-produced and directed by Tom Ford (yes the American fashion designer). The movie is based on the 1993 novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright. I mentioned up above about the star studded cast so let’s take a closer look at the name comprising the ensemble. They consist of Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Andrea Riseborough and Michael Sheen. That’s a lot of big names under one roof! Back before it came out theatrically it was selected to compete for the Golden Lion at the 73rd Venice International Film Festival, where it won the Grand Jury Prize. Aaron Taylor-Johnson did take home a Golden Globe this year as Best Supporting Actor. Now that we have that out of the way let’s talk about the dangerous tale of a broken-hearted ex-husband who unleashes his vengeance decades later through the twisted tale in his story (novel).
We start out with Susan (Adams), a successful Los Angeles art-gallery owner, whose idyllic life is spoiled by the constant traveling of her handsome second husband (Hammer). While he is away, she is a bit disturbed by the arrival of a proof manuscript (the novel I was referring to) written by her first husband (Gyllenhaal), who she has not seen in 19 years. The novel depicts the story of a husband/father whose trip with his family traveling through West Texas turns into a living, brutal nightmare. Overnight his life turns into shambles and he’s force to pick up the many shattered pieces to carry out his revenge. As Susan reads on further, it forces her to recollect her own past and all her regretful mistakes such as her first marriage, career, etc. The interesting thing here is pretty much what is written in print plays out in real life too from a certain point of view. I’ll leave it at that.
So every once in awhile a movie comes along that when you start to watch it you become so engrossed in you never want it to end. Reluctantly for me this happened twice to me this year with two films I never ever suspected to like, Hell or High Water and now Nocturnal Animals. Even the raved Neon Demon took multiple viewings to win me over, but if not for my head over heel loves for everything Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice this one would be my favorite motion picture of 2016 (see my Top 10 here). Take anything about it, the story, the performances, the cinematography, the style/fashion/art direction, the score, etc. and I’ll give you a million and one reasons why it excels. It’s a little bit of a modern day Hitchcok with a bit of Kubrick thrown in for good measure. You can definitely tell its a product of a fashion designer as I saw a lot of Neon Demon in it and I’m not even talking about the one actress who coincidentally stars in both the films I’m making comparison to here either.
Let’s talk about the opening credits of Nocturnal Animals for a few moments. Holy hell I have never been more giddy and/or uncomfortable in my life sitting there next to my co-worker in the theater and some older woman who was driving me crazy with her nose blowing. It has been some time since I felt like that. I guess I would say I haven’t felt this way since seeing Django Unchained theatrically and being the “minority” in the viewing audience. Are you picking up what I’m dropping? I’m not going to tell you what the opening scene is constructed of, but do know this. Like it or not Tom Ford knows how to get your undivided attention and I did not know whether to burst out in laughter or close my eyes in ugly protest/disgust. I suppose the latter would have been the most appropriate, but the former was really all I wanted to do. Ha ha. Truth be told I tried to watch that intro on my plane ride over this past weekend and even my fiancee got embarrassed by it for people who could see from between the seats behind us. It’s that good! Ha ha.
Last but not least I wanted to talk about the overall style and performances throughout. Some may argue that Gyllenhaal and Taylor-Johnson were the breakout stars in Nocturnal Animals, but don’t count out the powerful brooding performances of Amy Adams and the always dominant Michael Shannon (Academy Award nominated now). They may not have acted against each other here, but both their latter performances were equally as brilliant as the opposing forces onscreen between Gyllenhaal and Taylor-Johnson’s characters. Raw, gritty and visceral describes what goes down within this story and real life here. And that’s the style of it all. This is a real page turner. Just like flipping through pages of an engrossing book this film plays out in a real life, parallel counterpart sequence. Just why did Susan’s ex-husband write this book? Was it simply for revenge or were there deep, implanted reasons why? I’m not going to tell you, but the thrill of it all is discovering this for yourself as our main character relives and lives this pain over and over. It’s one of the most remarkable films I have ever seen in a long time. That’s why I refer to Nocturnal Animals as a modern day masterpiece…because it is!
- Encoding: MPEG-4 AVC
- Resolution: 1080p
- Aspect Ratio: 2.40:1
- Size: BD-50
- Clarity/Detail: Don’t get me wrong because there are a few shots throughout here that are either of stylistic intent or soft, but for the most part everything is sharply focused and prioritized in their respective frames. Let’s start out with that shocking intro that includes some women of heavyweight (being politically correct as possible here). Every single fat wedge, wrinkle, mole and scar is clearly on display for all to see whether you like it or not. The aerial LA highway overpasses are also rich with impeccable detail not to mention the many fabrics, textures such as wood and rock and so much more. Every single strand of hair or imperfection in Amy Adam’s skin is unmistakably visible and I love it so! Without this being scanned in a 4K Ultra HD master I couldn’t imagine Nocturnal Animals looking any better than it does here on Blu-ray, but don’t take my word for it keep reading below.
- Depth: Depth of field is exceptional here too thanks to the three-dimensional pop of every onscreen character moment. The actors throughout just vivaciously pop against their equally rich backgrounds and sets. Look no further than examples in Susan’s gorgeous house, hallways and kitchen to her equally stunning/sterile workplace, and those breathtaking “staged” West Texas (I say staged because not really Texas) landscapes and roads that go on forever.
- Black Levels: The black levels are incredibly dark, deep and gorgeously inky throughout. This is important too because so much of the movie takes place at night. My mind can’t help but wonder how exceptionally stunning this would have looked with an HDR master. Dammit Universal! Ha ha. Come on please, do it for me!
- Color Reproduction: Here’s where Nocturnal Animals really excels in the color department. The colors throughout are a bit romantic and a bit bold, in your face the way the reds and blues vivaciously pop off screen. Even the pastels such as a lilac suit jacket looks remarkable. Any way you slice it the color palette is beautiful, striking and not to mention very purposeful. Take that latter adjective any way you want to.
- Flesh Tones: The temperatures of the skin tones are healthy, natural and not overly exaggerated despite the artistic tweaks from time-to-time. In other words, skin looks great here throughout. I just wish there was more to go around. Ha ha.
- Noise/Artifacts: There’s nothing here as far as noise, banding or nasty artifacts that will distract or deter you from enjoying this 1080p presentation. With that being said though I did notice a couple of white specks quickly appear and disappear during the dinner party scene in the beginning.
- Audio Format(s): English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1, DVS Dolby Digital Plus 2.0, Spanish DTS Digital Surround 5.1, French DTS Digital Surround 5.1
- Subtitles: English SDH, Spanish, French
- Dynamics: Because this one is billed as a thriller one might be inclined to arrive at the ill conclusion this one must be completely immersive and all encompassing. While it kind of is, I also don’t want to lead you on either. It’s very much a drama at the end of the day, which ultimately means it’s very front heavy. However, that’s okay because the film speaks for itself. It’s all that drama that unfolds onscreen whether it’s the cinematography, strong performances, brooding score or whatnot that suck you in here. Now with that being said the directionality and prioritization of everything that transpires onscreen is spot on within this 5.1 lossless surround track. I just wish there was a little more activity in the rear channels, but beggars can’t be choosers when it comes to an exceptional flick like Nocturnal Animals. Ultimately nothing gets lost in the shuffle here, not even in the most maddening of moments, and that’s the real important takeaway in the audio department here.
- Low Frequency Extension: The LFE channel is quite engaging whether it be in moments within the score, the roar of the Pontiac GTO, the cars crashing together on the West Texas highway, gun shots and my favorite scene of them all, the heartbeats (so to speak) near the film’s conclusion. That is such a powerful moment. I can’t wait for y’all to see it and of course “hear” it.
- Surround Sound Presentation: Things are a bit mild here for my tastes in the rear channels, but still engaging in moments of action like gunshots, car swerving and more to the ambient times in the score and/or wind and pouring rain. You get the idea and painting I’m try to convey on this canvas, don’t you? Again, since this is a drama film I really don’t want to ding this one too much for the lack of rear activity because this is still a great sounding presentation nonetheless.
- Dialogue Reproduction: The dialogue levels are all clear and intelligible throughout and you don’t need me to tell you how important that is.
Nocturnal Animals arrives on Blu-ray and DVD sadly very short in the extras department, both in length and content. The Blu-ray set I have here comes with an exclusive behind-the-scenes featurette about the making of the film including an inside look with writer/director Tom Ford and a little more. In addition to all of this since it is Universal you can rest assured that you can redeem the Digital HD version of the film in both iTunes HD and UltraViolet. So let me stop wasting your time and take a look at the minuscule amount of extras we have to work with here. Truth be told though I would have killed for an audio commentary here with Ford and the major players in the proverbial sense, obviously not the literal.
The Making of Nocturnal Animals – In this one lobe extra Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Tom Ford, and cast and filmmakers recount how they brought such a unique story to life in the following three selectable segments:
- Building the Story (HD, 4:10) – Director/Writer Tom Ford and actors examine central characters and how they fit into the story. It’s really cool to get an inside look at how the two intertwining stories fuels and feeds each other. I love it! This one is obviously short, but very deep and impactful thanks to Ford dishing about the performances and the beautiful meaning of the story itself…you don’t throw love away. I love it more!
- The Look of Nocturnal Animals (HD, 3:47) – Filmmakers and cast discuss how the cinematography by Seamus McGarvey and costumes by Arianne Phillips give the film such a distinct and rich feel. Even more importantly Tom and Seamus discuss how they made each of the different worlds here a different feel from each other, but cohesive at the same time. Brilliance! Amy ends this extra by saying nothing in her life is as beautiful as the world Tom creates.
- The Filmmaker’s Eye: Tom Ford (HD, 3:32) – Here you get to see how Tom Ford’s attention to detail adds layers to the interwoven stories at the center of the film. Tom peels back the layers and calls to attention things that you’ll catch the second time around, such as colors, little objects, etc. To end this one Tom and Amy talk about that ending and what they each take away from it. God!!! I wish there were so many more extras here, but beggars can’t be choosers. Hopefully they will double dip on this one again some fine day.
It should come as no surprise from my praise of the film up above that I consider Nocturnal Animals a modern day masterpiece (it speaks to me for other personal reasons too). The hypnotic score, offbeat jokes and stylistic fashion never pauses throughout. It’s a little bit Hell or High Water mixed with your sexually infused thriller of choice. My only complaint is the flick did not get a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray treatment, but I digress. Things are still fabulous on this Blu-ray release. In my opinion Nocturnal Animals is a stylish exercise that pays off thanks to its intoxicating narrative, powerful performances and rich characters that will leave you guessing and wanting more past the credits. Tom Ford gets your undivided attention from the very first frame and never lets you go as you suffer blow by painful blow with the characters completely engrossed in wanting to know how it all goes down. At the same time you find yourself lost in the blurring lines between fiction and reality (the page turning quality in complement with the real life events happening). My only nitpick would be the wish washy the ending, but like all masterpieces you never want them to end? So you tell me is there ever an appropriate ending other than what Nolan did with The Dark Knight Rises? Smile, you’re on Candid Camera. Enjoy this one! I continue to do so viewing after viewing.
Heats Things Up
on Blu-ray & DVD