We must admit to having gone into Tom Ford’s new film expecting a seamy, sun-baked slice of Texan noir – and don’t get us wrong, Nocturnal Animals certainly delivers on that front. But that’s just one element in this playful and elegantly dark melodrama – a Hitchcockian psychological thriller filtered through the post-modernist lens of David Lynch.
Nocturnal Animals unfolds through two distinct and very different timeframes. In one, Susan (Amy Adams), a wealthy but jaded art gallery curator, is surprised one day to receive the proofs of a forthcoming novel that has been written by her ex-husband Tony (Jake Gyllehaal). In the other, the story of his novel plays out in Susan’s mind, with Gyllenhaal also taking on the role of the book’s lead character – Tony – who falls foul of some redneck psychos while on a road trip through the Texas badlands with his wife (Isla Fisher) and daughter (Ellie Bamber). Through flashbacks to the early romance between the ‘real’ Susan and Tony, and the subsequent breakdown of their marriage, the two story strands slowly and subtly begin to dovetail.
Adams (who can also be seen this week on the big screen in Arrival) gives a beautifully modulated performance as Susan, whose self-assured exterior begins to crack as memories and guilt bubble to the surface. Gyllenhaal is equally good in his dual roles, although Michael Shannon, as usual, steals every scene he is in as the laconic Texas lawman who helps the fictional Tony on his quest for justice. Aaron Taylor-Johnson also scores as the trailer trash villain, and there are also fun cameos from the likes of Armie Hammer as Susan philandering new husband, and Laura Linney as her fearsomely snobbish mother.
Fashion designer Ford, who triumphantly made the switch to filmmaking with his stylish debut A Single Man (2009), seamlessly knits the disparate strands of the film together and his cool, fluid visuals provide the perfect counterpoint to the melodramatics that unfold on screen.
A thoughtful treatise on revenge and the life choices we all must make, the enigmatic ending also provides further food for thought, making Nocturnal Animals a film you will definitely want to watch again when it arrives on Blu-ray.
In cinemas: November 10, 2016
Starring: Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon
Directed by: Tom Ford