A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that Nocturnal Animals is a fascinating but ultimately remote drama about deceit, misogyny, marital conflict, murder, and heartbreak -- a moody, morbid stew that's too mature for all but the oldest teens. Gruesome scenes show murdered bodies, and there are many other moments of violence, plus close-up shots that show the aftermath of struggles and fights. There's also smoking, drinking (mostly social, some depressingly isolated), and pill-popping, as well as nudity (some sexual, some not; some scatological) and plenty of swearing (including "s--t" and "f--k). Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaall co-star.
What's the story?
In NOCTURNAL ANIMALS, Susan (Amy Adams) is a fairly successful museum curator married to a banker (Armie Hammer) who may or may not be on the cusp of losing his fortune but is most definitely having an affair. Then a package arrives at their house, accompanied by a note from Susan's long-estranged ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaall). He's a novelist, and he's just sent her his about-to-be-published book, which is dedicated to her. Susan reads it, and she's soon pulled into the world Edward has created -- a place where a husband, Tony (Gyllenhaall) and a cop with a cancerous death sentence (Michael Shannon) try to avenge the ghastliest crime committed against him and his wife and daughter.
Is it any good?
Though it's visually stunning, there's something clinical about the way this drama dissects the relationships it depicts, no matter the heat, anxiety, fear, and passion at their heart. Even its gut-wrenching performances, specifically Gyllenhaal's, can't wrench Nocturnal Animals back to its beating-heart center, rendering it more aloof than it needs to be -- or should be.
That's a pity, because the film is revelatory in some ways, a study in how heartbreak can be as savage as physical assault. The story-within-a-story structure works, for the most part, though it also halts the momentum at times. Still, Nocturnal Animals -- which was inspired by Austin Wright's book Tony and Susan -- is worth watching. And not just for Adams, who's impressive here (as is Laura Linney in a small-but-pivotal role as Susan's mother), but also to witness writer-director Tom Ford's confidence. If only the film more closely embraced the emotions at its core.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about Nocturnal Animals' violence. There's a lot of it, but it's shown in a very stylized way. How does that affect the impact of the crimes?
How does the movie's look and feel relate to its subject matter?
Why does Susan seem so adrift? What about her world makes her feel lost?
Who do you think the movie is intended to appeal to? How can you tell?
- In theaters: November 18, 2016
- On DVD or streaming: February 21, 2017
- Cast: Jake Gyllenhaal, Amy Adams, Michael Shannon
- Director: Tom Ford
- Studio: Focus Features
- Genre: Drama
- Run time: 116 minutes
- MPAA rating: R
- MPAA explanation: violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language
- Awards/Honors: Golden Globe
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.