Fashion designer turned film director, Tom Ford follows up his quietly moving 2009 study of bereavement, A Single Man (opens in new tab), with the spellbinding Nocturnal Animals, a tale of marriage, art and ambition that slowly reveals itself as a chillingly cruel revenge thriller.
As you might expect from Ford, this is a movie that is stunning to look at; less predictably, it is also brutally tense.
The cunning nested narrative revolves around Amy Adams’ wealthy, emotionally brittle Los Angeles gallery owner, Susan, who receives the manuscript of a novel, dedicated to her and written by her long-abandoned ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Something ominous clearly lies in store. Susan gets a paper-cut while opening the package. What further wounds await her?
"Brutal noir-like tale"
It turns out that the novel is a brutal noir-like tale in which the mild, middle-class Tony (again played by Gyllenhaal), travelling by car across the badlands of West Texas with his wife (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter (Ellie Bamber), has a terrifying night-time encounter with a trio of local rednecks led by Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s swaggering psychopath, Ray.
Ford cuts back and forth between this unfolding story and Amy’s reading of it, alone in her cold, modernist house. As Amy’s imaginative involvement in the novel deepens, we get a further narrative layer: flashbacks to Amy’s marriage to Edward, which foundered because of her lack of faith in his talent. And, as the anguished Tony seeks payback for his family’s ordeal, we slowly realise that the novel is itself an act of payback.
Nocturnal Animals won’t be to all tastes. Some will find it too coldly stylish, others too coldly bleak. Fall into the film’s clutches, though, and it becomes ferociously riveting. Besides, the acting is terrific, with Adams and Gyllenhaal getting superb, Oscar-nominated support from Michael Shannon as the cynical, cancer-stricken detective who aids Tony in his grim quest.
Certificate 15. Runtime 112 mins. Director Tom Ford
Nocturnal Animals is available on Digital Download, and on Blu-ray & DVD from 13 March, courtesy of Universal Pictures Home Entertainment.
A film critic for over 25 years, Jason admits the job can occasionally be glamorous – sitting on a film festival jury in Portugal; hanging out with Baz Luhrmann at the Chateau Marmont; chatting with Sigourney Weaver about The Archers – but he mostly spends his time in darkened rooms watching films. He’s also written theatre and opera reviews, two guide books on Rome, and competed in a race for Yachting World, whose great wheeze it was to send a seasick film critic to write about his time on the ocean waves. But Jason is happiest on dry land with a classic screwball comedy or Hitchcock thriller.
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