Rated: R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language. Reviewed by: Jim Release date: November 18, 2016 Released by: Focus Features
Amy Adams and Jake Gyllenhaal headline a dramatic thriller of reality clashing with fiction, veiled with symbolism and apprehension.
Nocturnal Animals is Tom Ford's second film after A Single Man and he likes to challenge the viewer through two story strands that intertwine the lives of Gyllenhaal's Tony and Adams's Susan, including flashbacks of the couple's earlier married life and includes their old West Texas hometown.
Susan intended to be an artist and Tony became a writer, but their professional aspirations didn't go the way they planned. Now, Ford's script adapted from an Austin Wright book depicts a distraught Adams (with smoky eye-shadow) as a Los Angeles gallery proprietor with a new banker husband (Armie Hammer of The Birth of a Nation) on a business to try and salvage a failing business. Their home has a contemporary glassy décor to it.
Part of Susan's milieu is with the fashion crowd (which Ford in his specialty reveals his fondness for it) and a satirical slant is felt through the coterie as one story follows her with her second, drifting husband. But, that is connected to Tony sending her his latest eponymous book manuscript which she becomes obsessed with and haunted by (not to mention that it's dedicated to her). Trying to figure out all night what this lurid thriller means isn't good for someone who has plenty of bouts with insomnia.
The novel comes to life with Gyllenhaal (this time as Edward Sheffield) through Susan's reading of it - a father and husband whose wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber) are victims of vicious, creepy rednecks (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Karl Glusman) when a vacation goes awry. Secondary parts that appear in the disparate threads include Susan's socialite mother, a nastily disapproving Laura Linney, and a no-nonsense sheriff on the violent case, a wryly salty Michael Shannon who makes the most of his colorfully jaded appearances.
Ford's ambition almost makes for two interesting separate endeavors; the meshing reveals a stylishness and ambiguity that doesn't necessarily surpass what each notably brings to the fore with an arresting, if inscrutable blurring that will remind some of David Lynch with setting and ominous events and undercurrents reminiscent of The Coen Bros. It's a diligent Gyllenhaal (Nightcrawler) putting soulfulness into a disrespected, crestfallen man and especially Adams (Enchanted, Arrival) even in a saturnine, unsympathetic light who always commands attention when it comes to the fated and vengeance.