Adaptation Drama

'Nocturnal Animals' Film Review: Beauty meets ugliness in Tom Ford's chilling noir drama

November 18, 2016Ben MK

They say revenge is a dish best served cold. And in the case of Nocturnal Animals — a revenge tale within a revenge tale, and the new noir drama from fashion designer and A Single Man director Tom Ford — the old adage doesn't just hold true; it takes on double the relevance.

In it, Amy Adams plays Susan Morrow, a disaffected L.A. art gallery owner dealing with issues both personal and professional. But even with her business struggling and her husband Hutton's (Armie Hammer) eye wandering, there's one thing that haunts Susan the most; and that's the cruel way she ended her relationship with ex-husband, Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal). Now, years after their split, Edward, now a novelist, has sent Susan an advance copy of his book — aptly titled "Nocturnal Animals" — which he has also ominously dedicated to her.

Inside its pages, Susan is taken aback by the disturbing nature of the story she finds — a narrative about grief, pain and retribution, all centering on a man named Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal), a mild-mannered college professor who has his entire world suddenly taken away from him when his wife (Isla Fisher) and teenage daughter (Ellie Bamber) are brutally raped and murdered, after Tony and his family unwittingly cross paths with a trio of violent thugs (Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Karl Glusman and Robert Aramayo) on a lonely, West Texas highway.

As Susan makes her way through Tony's twisting tale with morbid fascination, she can't help but notice the subtle parallels between his tortured character and her ex-husband. Meanwhile, Ford — who has expertly adapted the film from author Austin Wright's 1993 novel, "Tony and Susan" — seizes the opportunity to both compare and contrast Tony and Susan's worlds, mirroring and intercutting the two through stylish visuals, while also juxtaposing Susan's sleek, ultra-modern surroundings with the sun-baked and gritty Hell in which Tony finds himself trapped.

The supporting cast also includes Laura Linney as Susan's cold-hearted, socialite mother. However, it's Michael Shannon who saunters in and steals the show as a Texas lawman with nothing to lose named Bobby Andes. For while the story's overall seriousness leaves precious little room for humor, it's impossible not to be amused by Shannon, whose quirky yet suitably intense delivery brings some much-appreciated levity to the movie, putting him in excellent company among such cult-favorite actors as Christopher Walken, John Malkovich and Jeff Goldblum.

Otherwise, Nocturnal Animals plays it straight for the most part, pausing from time to time to level sharply written and darkly funny critiques against the sheer outlandishness of the L.A. art scene, thanks to criminally brief appearances from the likes of Michael Sheen, Andrea Riseborough and Jena Malone. Perhaps this is Ford's way of sneakily getting his own revenge on the fashionistas who have wronged him. Either way, it adds a whole new dimension to the movie, underscoring Ford's impressive — and evolving — grasp of the medium in the process.

Nocturnal Animals opens November 18th, 2016 in limited release from Universal Pictures. The film has an MPAA rating of R for violence, menace, graphic nudity, and language. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 57 Mins.

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