It has been seven years since Tom Ford added the job description of film director to his already famous fashion empire. That movie, A Single Man, was rightly acclaimed, and now with Nocturnal Animals he proves it was no fluke. Based on the 1993 novel Tony & Susan by Austin Wright, this adult thriller is a crazy mix of Alfred Hitchcock, David Lynch, Douglas Sirk, Brian De Palma, Stanley Kubrick and even a bit of Sam Peckinpah thrown in for good measure. But overall it is pure Ford, full of stylistic touches and fine acting.
It is his complex screenplay adaptation, though, that really makes this complicated structure work as well as it does. As I say in my video review (click the link above to watch), it’s really three distinct movies in one, including a story within a story using two fictions to create a single truth for the main character Susan Morrow (Amy Adams), a wealthy but seemingly unhappy gallery owner now married to her second husband (Armie Hammer) and living a lifestyle that appears glamorous on the outside but is shallow on the inside. One day a manuscript from her ex-husband of 20 years earlier, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal) arrives with instructions to read it. That she does, but as she turns the pages of the story called Nocturnal Animals, she soon realizes it hits much closer to home than she ever could have imagined.
As it turns out, Edward has vented all his frustrations about Susan and their relationship and wrapped it up in this extremely violent and disturbing story. That story is played out onscreen, cutting back and forth to Susan reading it. Tony (also Gyllenhaal), wife Laura (Adams lookalike Isla Fisher) and teen daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are on a family vacation driving down a deserted highway when they come into conflict with another car populated by some creepy guys led by Ray (Aaron Taylor Johnson), who begins a cat-and-mouse game before driving away with the wife and daughter, leaving Tony alone to fend for himself. In a desperate bid to find them, he eventually teams up with a grizzled, cigarette-smoking detective (Michael Shannon), and all roads lead to confrontation with the baddies. In addition to this section, the film also flashes back to the relationship of Edward and Susan, detailing the road that led to this devastating moment that will haunt Susan but perhaps set her on a new path.
As you can imagine, the technical credits are first-rate, with fine cinematography from Seamus McGarvey, production design by Shane Valentino, editing by Joan Sobel and a great music score by Abel Korzeniowski. Acting is excellent all around, with Shannon stealing every scene he’s in and Johnson having a field day. Special shout-out to Laura Linney, who cuts to the bone in one scene as Susan’s mother. Great stuff. Ford and Robert Salerno produced. Focus Features puts the film in limited release beginning Friday.
Do you plan to see Nocturnal Animals? Let us know what you think.