NOCTURNAL ANIMALS (USA/16/117mins)
Directed by Tom Ford. Starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Michael Sheen
THE PLOT: Susan Morro (Amy Adams) seems to have everything in life; a beautiful home, a charming husband (Armie Hammer) and a fulfilling job as an art gallery owner, but she still feels unfulfilled and restless. When her ex-band Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) sends her a copy of the novel that he has finally finished writing, Susan finds herself engrossed with the tale of Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal), and one horrifying event that changes his life forever. As Susan becomes more obsessed with the story she is reading, she realises the connections between this tale, and the past she had with Edward.

 

THE VERDICT: Based on the novel ‘Tony and Susan’ by Austin Wright, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is the first feature film from fashion designer turned director Tom Ford since ‘A Single Man’ in 2009. ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is stylish, violent and beautifully shot by Seamus McGarvey, and is as engaging as it is horrifying.
Amy Adams leads the cast as Susan Morrow, a woman who seems to have everything, but feels as though she has nothing. Adams brings a stillness to the role that is engaging and fascinating, and it is through her eyes that we experience not only the story of her own past, but the novel that she us reading. Jake Gyllenhaal takes on the dual roles of Susan’s ex-husband Edward and the protagonist of the novel; Tony Hastings. We see Gyllenhaal much more in the role of Tony, and he makes the character tenacious and terrified; an intoxicating and engaging combination. Gyllenhaal seems only to have been cast in the dual role in order to make a statement about Susan’s past with her ex-husband Edward, and simply having the same actor in both roles is enough to make that message clear. Michael Shannon plays a familiar but effective role as Bobby Andes, the police officer in Edward’s novel, and Aaron Taylor-Johnson ramps up the creepy and absurd as Ray Marcus, the villain of the novel. The rest of the cast is impressive, and is made up of Andrea Riseborough, Isla Fisher, Armie Hammer, Laura Linney, Michael Sheen, Jena Malone and Karl Glusman.
Tom Ford adapted Wright’s novel for the screen, and makes the tricky idea of telling a story within a story work incredibly well. As mentioned, Gyllenhaal’s performances as Edward and the fictional Tony anchor the two together, and while both stories are painfully different, it is through Susan reading the novel – titled, by the way, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ – that we learn about her relationship with her ex husband, and how the ending of the same affected him. The violence and excitement of the film come from Susan’s reading of the novel – which is shown on screen – and it is Adams’ stillness that allows this messy and bloody tale to work so well. Having Susan take breaks from the novel – we are only involved when she is – allows the audience to take a breath from some of the horrors of the novel, and also makes the pacing of the film a little less relentless than it could have been.
As director Tom Ford makes the film engrossing and ghastly as violent events play out on screen. The performances in the film are terrific – Adams and Gyllenhaal are to be particularly commended – with the exception of Aaron Taylor-Johnson, whose over the top and schlocky performance does not fit in with the rest of the film. There are times when the pacing struggles however, as Susan drifts through the “real world” and Tony’s tale in the novel feels as though it hit a brick wall. Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography adds to the horror of the novel and the rich boredom that Adams’ character is experiencing, and makes even the most brutal of moments seem ethereal and engaging.
In all, ‘Nocturnal Animals’ is violent, strange, complicated and utterly engrossing. Tom Ford has made a beautifully horrifying film that not only reveals two stories in the most subtle of ways, but draws the audience in from the start.
RATING: 4/5
Review by Brogen Hayes

  • filmbuff2011

    American fashion designer Tom Ford’s second feature Nocturnal Animals is an ambitious, multi-layered thriller of the emotional kind. But is it the sum of all its various parts… or less?

    Art gallery owner Susan (Amy Adams) receives a manuscript from her ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Titled Nocturnal Animals, it’s an apparently fictional story that he wants her to read before meeting up with her again after all these years. As she sits down to read over a long night, we see the story within. On the dusty West Texas highway, family man Tony (Gyllenhaal), his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their teenage daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are run off the road by the slimy Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and his buddies. Tony is left to fend for himself, while Laura and India are abducted. Local police detective Bobby (Michael Shannon) helps Tony investigate the abduction. As Susan reads over the story, she reflects on her past relationship with Edward – and sees a possible veiled threat in the storyline. It’s just a story… right?

    This reviewer really wanted to like Nocturnal Animals. A Single Man was a very refined and well-made film that showed great promise for Ford. Nocturnal Animals is a different beast – as it should be. Ford is obviously conscious of not repeating himself too much here. Based on the novel Tony And Susan by Austin Wright, Nocturnal Animals sadly never really gels together. Most of the running time is taken up with the story within, a pulpy Texan thriller more akin to a Coen Bros film with its somewhat dopey villains and archly laconic detective, played with mannered style by the brilliant Shannon. Ford leaves the viewer to connect the dots in the story within to the story without. He drops enough visually similar bridges between scenes to make tentative connections. The flashbacks add a third layer to this cake, but never really suggest enough to make it a fully digestible story.

    Therein lies the problem with this film. It’s less than the sum of its parts. While the thriller aspect is moderately entertaining, it’s merely hinting at Susan and Edward’s marriage, which ended with her doing something horrible to him. The story without is more interesting, but it’s never fleshed out in detail. We see sketches of their earlier selves, but nothing more. What really happened in this relationship? Ford doesn’t seem to be interested in resolving the overall story. Instead, he cops out with a cheat ending that robs the audience of a proper resolution. Suggestion isn’t enough. These characters are too interesting to leave with loose ends.

    The performances from Adams, Gyllenhaal and Shannon can’t be faulted here. They do great work with their thinly-written characters. Ford’s visual style is certainly there, even daringly opening with a very un-Hollywood display of flesh. It looks and sounds great too. In the end though, it’s hollow, glacial and unreachable – a bit like a supermodel. An interesting failure then. Beautifully horrifying? More like beautifully dull. **

  • Clive Bower

    Loved this film, can’t beat a film that has you thinking about it days after seeing it
    Trying to re look into where and how things unfolded, beautifully shot and really well acted well worth a trip to the cinema

  • emerb

    Tom Ford won over critics with his first movie “A Single Man” and his second, a mystery thriller called “Nocturnal Animals”, is another impressive outing from the renowned fashion designer. Ford adapted the screenplay from late American novelist Austin Wright’s 1993 book “Tony and Susan” and the film’s title comes from the novel within that novel. It is an explosive and ambitious tale, one part
    brutal, violent and vengeful Texas thriller and one part suspenseful, dramatic
    melodrama.
    Amy Adams is Susan Morrow, an L.A. high society lady and successful gallery owner who specializes in shocking and provocative pieces for the upper class. However, her life of luxury is one big sham, her personal life is in shambles and she just tries to keep up appearances. Her distant, philandering but dashing second husband Walker (Armie Hammer) flies off on business while she lounges in their beautifully modernist mansion in misery, unable to make her similarly privileged friends understand her predicament. When she receives a soon-to-be published manuscript from her ex-husband Edward who never remarried (Jake Gyllenhaal seen only in flashback), she is both astonished and curious. Edward is a sweet and kindly man who always wanted to be a writer but she broke his heart twice over. First she left him for Walker and then she criticised him for being weak and insecure and that he didn’t have it in him to be an author. The book is entitled “Nocturnal Animals” (dedicated to her and with the title taken from an old pet name they had), and she starts to delve into the story unperturbed, almost in rapture.
    The novel is not about her but rather a family man, Tony Hastings (Jake Gyllenhaal) who is taking an overnight road trip through West Texas with his wife (Isla Fisher) and obnoxious daughter (Ellie Bamber). On a deserted highway, a car pulls up beside them and forces them off the road. Inside is a group of nasty white-trash thugs led by the brutish and sociopathic Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) who takes them hostage and terrorizes them, tragedy ensues. Tony manages to escape and enlists a local Sheriff Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon) to help track
    them down and bring them to justice. The two timelines play out in parallel, with Susan in the real world and Jake Gyllenhaal playing both Edward, the author and her ex-husband, and Tony, the lead character of his text. There are superb flashbacks too which carry Susan back to the decisions she made and unmade in her youth and she recalls memories of her relationship with Edward and where it all went wrong.
    The superb performances from the ever-reliable Adams and Gyllenhaal hold the film together. Gyllenhaal’s performance, playing a man who loses everything not once but twice, goes to a place of real terror and despair. Adams fully inhabits Susan’s complex emotions and as the movie moves back and forth through time, she convincingly plays an eager twenty year old and her weary, deeply lonely married self some twenty years later. Every role has been well cast, including lawmaker Michael Shannon, a brilliant Laura Linney as the condescending Martini-sipping Mother and Taylor-Johnson as the effectively chilling ringleader of the violent delinquent gang. All deserve a mention for their committed performances.
    Tom Ford deserves praise for not only making an intelligent and original film but essentially he has made two in one. “Nocturnal Animals” jumps between its own story and a fictional story that one of the characters is reading. Keeping audiences interested in both is not an easy task to accomplish and is a clear demonstration of his skill. Ford has cleverly structured the film, keeping all parallel strands of the story distinct and letting us wonder just how they could
    all possibly come together in the end.. In a sense the past feeds into the present and fiction into reality. I thought this film was terrific, I found it at all times entertaining, absorbing and gripping. It’s suspenseful and tense, a psychological thriller that may be constructed around a melancholy love story but is still not afraid to delve into dark violence, rage and deep seated revenge. In terms of the visuals, cinematographer Seamus McGarvey does a great job contrasting the sterile perfection of the supercool Los Angeles environments and the expansive wide open plains of Texas. I can see the enigmatic ending annoying some people and it certainly leaves you thinking, but I think that’s what he wants to achieve here. With great performances and much dramatic excitement this movie is clearly the work of a creative mind and is likely to attract good audience figures. It left me hoping we don’t have to wait another seven years for Ford’s next film.