An art gallery owner is haunted by her ex-husband's novel, a violent thriller she interprets as a veiled threat and a symbolic revenge tale.
Review by Louise Keller:
Guilt and revenge are the emotions explored in Tom Ford's hypnotic noir thriller in which fantasy, fiction, the past and the present swirl together in an exhilarating cinematic jungle. It has been seven years since Ford's acclaimed debut feature A Single Man and at the core of his adaptation of Austin Wright's novel Tony and Susan, Ford nurtures the same sense of romanticism. Sublimely beautiful to look at and propelled by a soulful, expressive score quavering with anticipation, the film takes us on a devastating journey in which layers of superficiality are ripped away to reveal ugly violence at its most primal. Nocturnal Animals toys with our emotions; our guides are Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal, whose superlative performances are affecting and haunting.
After an arresting opening credit sequence in which obese naked women with elephantine bodies gyrate disconcertingly to camera, we meet Amy Adams' sophisticated, elegant gallery owner Susan in her perfect, ordered life. The starkness of the minimalist all-white art gallery and expensive designer home, from where her ultra-handsome husband (Armie Hammer) is conspicuously absent is all too apparent. She carries loneliness like a handbag.
Wearing large statement reading glasses, Susan starts to consume the manuscript sent to her by her ex husband Edward (Gyllenhaal). Through her eyes, we become sucked into the reality of the narrative.
In her imagination, Gyllenhaal plays Tony, the story's protagonist; he is driving a car with his auburn-haired wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bambeas). He is driving along a David Lynch-esque highway in the dead of night in a remote part of Texas. There is sheer terror as three hooligans force them off the road. We immediately get a nasty taste in our mouths. The torment and violence that follows becomes the centre of our focus for the remainder of the film. Tony slowly descends into emotional and physical hell.
Aaron Taylor-Johnson is chillingly good as the despicable leader of the three sadistic hooligans while Michael Shannon (always interesting to watch), creates a memorable character as the Texan cop, who draws slowly on his cigarettes and does not always stick to procedures.
Ford leapfrogs backwards and forwards in time, incorporating earlier happy times when Susan and Edward meet up one snowy night in New York, at a time when love is new and romance glitters more brightly than careers and prospects. Ford elegantly juxtaposes like-images comprised of different characters from different time frames. There is symmetry in the juxtaposition of scenes with naked bodies; bodies in the bath... Our senses are stimulated: we hear the sound of running water; the wind in the desert; the screams in the night... Watch out for Laura Linney in a stunning cameo as the martini-loving materialistic mother that Susan despises: big hair, big pearls and a big excess of cynicism.
What is the secret behind the manuscript? What event in the past triggers Susan's guilt? And how do all the elements fall into place, when the past, present and future are shaken together like an intoxicating cocktail? The thread of revenge transcends time.
Superbly realized and brutally chilling, Nocturnal Animals is another triumph for Ford, whose style, sensitivity and vision is creative nirvana.
Email this article
NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (MA15+)
CAST: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer
PRODUCER: Tom Ford, Robert Salerno
DIRECTOR: Tom Ford
SCRIPT: Tom Ford (based on novel Tony and Susan by Austin Wright)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Seamus McGarvey
EDITOR: Joan Sobel
MUSIC: Abel Korzeniowski
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Shane Valentino
RUNNING TIME: 117 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: November 10, 2016