Based on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel Tony and Susan, Nocturnal Animals is fashion designer-turned-director Tom Ford’s second film.
Successful gallery owner Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) seemingly has it all, but beneath the facade, her marriage to her second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer) is falling apart, made all the more agonising by the arrival of a novel written by her first husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Titled Nocturnal Animals (a nickname given to Susan by Edward), the unpublished novel unfolds as a tale of violence and brutal revenge as a family (who mirror Susan and Edward) are run off the road by brutes in rural Texas.
Divided into three strands, Nocturnal Animals flickers between Susan in the present, reading the book as her marriage deteriorates, a dramatisation of the novel and flashbacks of her previous relationship with Edward. Adams displays tremendous range throughout, beginning as a wide-eyed young woman in the midst of a budding romance, to discovering she wants more from life and finally to the crushing realisation that the extravagant lifestyle she craved isn’t all it’s cracked up to be and is crumbling around her. Gyllenhaal also shines as we delve into his character through Susan’s memories and his fictional version of himself through his novel and the line becomes blurred as to which is more accurate.
As the novel plays out, we have the displeasure of meeting Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), leader of the heinous thugs. Taylor-Johnson, who since his breakout role in Kick-Ass has received middling reviews for his outings in Godzilla and Avengers: Age of Ultron, is thoroughly terrifying and unhinged. A stand-out performance that lingers under the skin long after the credits roll. Michael Shannon is outstanding as per usual as Detective Bobby Andes, whose disregard for procedures and determination to see justice served is nothing but endearing.
Balancing all three elements with ease, Ford also sets an odd tone from the fleshy opening credits, a tone that eventually evolves into genuine dread, the likes of which could rival a horror flick. With Ford so entangled within the world of fashion and all things luxury, his cutting jibes and constant mocking of the industry was surprising, but refreshing. The ability to view the business as outsiders often do, hollow and synthetic, added weight to the characters and the film as a whole.
Nocturnal Animals is as eye-catching as Tom Ford’s first outing A Single Man. However, the striking, lavish aesthetic is certainly a better fit here due to the characters themselves living an excessive existence. Style over substance, a criticism of his previous film is, in fact, a central theme second time around.