Tom Ford’s “Nocturnal Animals” is a Flawed but Gripping Film

I’ve seen films I enjoyed far more than this one in 2016. I’ve seen much better as well.

None hit me on the same personal level that this one did.

Tom Ford, fashion designer (I see his shirts at Kohl’s and James Bond wears them) and recently-decided writer/director has delivered his second effort, an adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel Tony and Susan, a thriller released in 1993 to middling but curious reviews. Ford’s adaptation take artistic liberties with the subject material but finds a more balanced delivery, arguably improving on the material.

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Amy Adams as Susan Morrow

We’re introduced to Amy Adams’ character Susan Morrow, a housewife who runs an art gallery. She is married to a man who is less than desireable despite how man-gorgeous he is and spends her days looking at what she cannot create. She receives a novel from her ex-husband, writer Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), entitled Nocturnal Animals after a nickname he had for her when he noticed she was plagued with insomnia. As Susan reads it we are pulled into the story of Tony and his family, but also further into that of Edward and Susan.

This is where the film gets weird because while I think these contrasting aspects do not always match up they actually both manage to suck you in, to keep your focus. In the case of the main plot we’re kept rapt far longer than we should be, the depression of Susan Morrow far more interesting than expected. I actually see shades of Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia in this film, the performance of Amy Adams similar in ways to that of Kirsten Dunst.

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Jake Gyllenhaal as Tony Hastings/Edward Sheffield

Gyllenhaal, on the other hand, gets to have a lot more of a broad performance. Instead of the subdued, remorseful depression Amy Adams gets to work he gets to play a man who is being pushed to the limits by the rape and murder of his family. Whether screaming into the dirt or trying to hold back tears (not to mention restrain his trigger finger) he gives into the whole thing in a wonderful way. Opposite of him we get two vastly different characters in Aaron Taylor-Johnson, who plays Ray Marcus, and Michael Shannon as Roberto Andes. These two are his anchors, the rapist and the officer who lead him on this journey. Between the two of them they manage to make a new man out of the character of Tony, who is a soft-spoken and suburban individual. Taylor-Johnson is absolutely vile in a way we haven’t seen from a villain in years, with absolutely no sympathetic angle, and Shannon is depressed and forceful in his role as an officer willing to skirt the law in order to get his prey.

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Despite the flaws this film has to offer I could not help but follow it from slow beginnings to edge-of-my-seat, armrest-gripping thrills. I was profoundly struck by it by the time the credits rolled and could not be more pleased with it. This is a must-see for sure. Amy Adams is on a roll recently and this is such a wonderful step for her, I cannot wait to see what she does next and as for Tom Ford I have to say I enjoyed this far more than his first effort, A Single Man, and am overjoyed with his ability to provoke both fear and understanding in his audience despite still having some strides to make as a director/writer.

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