Focus Features 117 minutes R
Tom Ford has designed a beautifully disturbing thriller that is both creepy and compelling. It is brutal both physically and psychologically. There are some scenes that will stick with you after seeing this film and may make you re-evaluate loyalty in your own relationships.
Tom Ford is know for design and detail, and it shows in every aspect of this film which he wrote and directed. The clothes, the settings, the way the actors are shot come into play. There are a lot of close ups, and wide shots, but not as much mid range both of high society and Texas desert. The soundtrack is spare, but there is one sound effect of a slowing heart beat that pounds in your head and will haunt you. Ford wrote and directed this, his second feature, 7 years after making A Single Man. It is based on Austin Wright’s book-within-a-book called Tom and Susan, about revenge and isolation and it gets pretty scary.
Amy Adams is Susan, an art gallerist who is depressed and unhappily married to her second husband, Tom (Armie Hammer). They have a show place for a home, and Adams says Susan creates protective armor for herself by dressing and acting well to present herself well. They are trying to hide money problems from their friends. She’s got issues and is re-evaluating her life thinking about her first husband, Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). They did not part well.
Suddenly, after 20 years, he sends her the manuscript from his new book which is not only dedicated to her, but titled Nocturnal Animals. That’s what he called her inability to sleep. There are actually three story lines going on here, and Ford has handled them with flashbacks and interruptions so well, they are not confusing. He creates more tension as Susan either gets interrupted or she stops reading because it gets too intensely frightening for her to continue. You will feel her frustration and fear and wonder why Edward has done this. Ford says he felt like a psychologist and it was tough to edit the three story lines. He says it was fun but much bigger than he thought it would be.
Gyllenhaal plays dual roles in this film and bares his soul in both. He plays Susan’s former husband and also Tony Hastings, the husband and father in the book. Gyllenhaal says Ford would act out scenes for him filled with emotion, vulnerability and sensitivity. He says the director knew exactly what he wanted.
Tony, his wife, Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber) are taking a road trip through the desert when they become terrorized by three men who kidnap the women. She’s tough and fights to protect her daughter. Fisher says shooting those tough scenes in the Mojave desert at night reminded her of some weird experiences she’s had driving lonely roads in the dark. Ford cast Fisher because of her resemblance to Adams.
English actor Aaron Taylor-Johnson, (Kick Ass, Avengers: Age of Ultron) plays Ray, does much too good a job as the psychopathic ring leader and most frightening of the bunch. Karl Glusman plays Lou, and Robert Aramayo is Turk. They are so sick and obnoxious, they will make your skin crawl.
Here comes the scary part, which is horrifyingly brutal in one scene and beautifully morbid in another. Enter Michael Shannon as Bobby Andes, the Texas investigator who’s found Tony’s wife and daughter. Shannon is always interesting, though so understated here. Ford keeps his dialogue to a minimum, but he does so much with it by delivery and tight shots of slight but effective facial expressions. Ford keeps you guessing if Shannon’s character is really going to help or not. Tony finds out that the detective’s got his own issues that also come into play.
Amy Adams is on the screen showing the gamut of emotions throughout the film. She depressed, and repressed rethinking the decisions that changed her life. She too, is vulnerable, in a flashback as a young college undergrad who bucks her tough Texan Mother to marry the idealistic writer Edward. Linney transforms herself completely, with big hair, accent and all in their few scenes together. We hardly recognized her! Ford says he was so impressed with Linney’s characterization that he would have written more scenes using her.
Nocturnal Animals is a well crafted, but disturbing drama with great detail and acting. We hope that Jake and Amy can now get some sleep, but we know this film could keep YOU up all night.