Nocturnal Animals (R) ★★★½

Amy Adams stars in “Nocturnal Animals.” Photo Credit: Focus Features.

Tom Ford Designs Another Work of Art

In the build-up to Oscar season, Hollywood studios release their “best films” from Thanksgiving to Christmas to such an extent that it can be overwhelming to the public. A number of excellent films get lost in the shuffle every year, especially those that lack proper marketing. Nocturnal Animals, written and directed by the multi-talented Tom Ford, is one of those films. 

The psychological thriller-mystery-drama is essentially divided into two plots, the real-life story about a woman and her ex-husband and the book that is inspired by their relationship. The film cuts back and forth between the real-life story, and the story told in the book. Over time, the plot of the book begins to make sense to the audience in the context of the real life story. Although this may seem confusing, the shift from one story to the other is very clear on screen.

The film opens with a strange art show at an L.A. art gallery in the “real life” story. The gallery is owned by Susan Morrow played by Amy Adams (Arrival, 2016) who is married to businessman, Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer, The Birth of a Nation, 2016). Despite what appears to be a glamorous lifestyle, Susan’s marriage is faltering as she and Hutton argue about money and she suspects him of cheating. As her husband heads out for a ‘business trip,’ Susan is surprised by a novel she receives in the mail from her ex-husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal, South Paw, 2015). Edward wrote the book and dedicated it to her. In his personal note, he mentions he is coming to town soon and invites her to dinner. Susan, looking for an escape from her unhappy life, immerses herself into the book and audiences come along for the ride.

Nocturnal Animals is the second film from the multi-talented Tom Ford, whose first directorial effort (A Single Man, 2009) received an Oscar nomination. Ford, who is best known for his work in the fashion industry, draws on his visual talents, once again, in this expertly-made film. Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal both shine in this chilling and complex film.

The film shifts into the secondary plot, which is Edward’s book. The story opens with Tony (also played by Gyllenhaal), a peaceful man who Susan (while reading) pictures as her ex-husband. One night, Tony is driving through West Texas with his wife and teenage daughter when they have an incident on the road with three creepy men. The men force his car off of the road and despite his pleas to be left alone; the men abduct his wife and daughter and force him to drive down an abandoned road. Although he is attacked, Tony is able to escape and makes his way back to the highway the next morning, where he calls the police for help. Detective Bobby Andes (Michael Shannon, Loving, 2016), arrives on the scene and helps Tony retrace his steps in the hopes to find his wife and daughter.

Susan is spellbound by the book and its theme, and it only makes her rethink the events of her life and her feelings toward her ex-husband, Edward. The rest of the film toggles between the events of the novel (as envisioned by Susan) and the circumstances of Susan and Edward’s marriage and dissolution.

Adams’s performance is more subdued and reflective whereas Gyllenhaal shows more emotion, but both give powerful performances. Shannon (nominated for an Academy Award in the Best Supporting Actor category) also gives a stellar performance as a no-nonsense detective who simply wants to get his man and will literally do anything in his power to make that happen for Tony. Tom Ford does an excellent job of intertwining the two stories to a unifying theme. 

Bottom Line: Nocturnal Animals went under the radar in 2016. Although this jarring mystery-drama, stylishly directed by Tom Ford, is dark in terms of storylines, the main characters – Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, and Michael Shannon – shine brightly in their roles. This is not recommended for those who may be haunted by violent films with unanswered questions.

Credits: Written and directed by Tom Ford

Cast: Amy Adams (Susan Morrow), Jake Gyllenhaal (Edward Sheffield and Tony Hastings), Armie Hammer (Hutton Morrow), Michael Shannon (Bobby Andes), Aaron-Taylor-Johnson (Ray Marcus), Isla Fisher (Laura Hastings), Laura Linney (Anne Sutton)

Studio: Focus Features

Running Time: 116 minutes

Jessica DeLong © January 27, 2017