Seven years after fashion designer Tom Ford made his impressive directorial debut with A Single Man based on the Christopher Isherwood novel, he turns to another novel, “Tony and Susan, “as the basis for his latest film, Nocturnal Animals, a psychological thriller starring Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon. Stylish as you would expect, Ford proves he’s no one-hit-wonder with a dark thriller that will leave you thinking about the characters long after the closing credits have ended.
Los Angeles art gallery owner Susan Morrow (Adams) appears to have it all–a handsome husband (Arnie Hammer) gorgeous mansion and a large circle of rich friends–but she’s far from happy, unfulfilled in her work and barely speaking to her husband, faced with a collapsing marriage. At the same time, she finds herself pulled back into the life of her first husband, Edward (Gyllenhaal), who after years of false starts, has finally finished a novel. He has sent Susan, to whom it’s dedicated, a copy of “Nocturnal Animals” to read before publication.
The book-within-the-movie introduces us to Tony Hastings (also played by Gyllenhaal), whose family road trip to a small Texas town takes a horrifying turn when a gang of rednecks runs their car off the road. After a period of torment, the gang, led by the sociopathic Ray Marcus (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) kidnaps Edwards wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and daughter India (Ellie Bamber). When the women are found brutally raped and murdered, a Devastated Edward joins forces with local detective Bobby Andes (Shannon) in an effort to get justice by any means necessary. As Susan reads the novel, alone in her cavernous home, her mind wonders back to a time twenty years earlier, her relationship with Edward and her betrayal, that ultimately led to their divorce. For Edward, the novel has been a kind of therapy and after reading it, Susan hopes the two can connect again.
Nocturnal Animals’ first book-within-movie segment is as unnerving a sequence as I’ve ever seen in a thriller. The three protagonists, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Karl Glusman, and Robert Aramayo exude trouble from the moment they start playing chicken with Tony’s car. Once the trio forces the Hastings out of the car, it’s obvious this won’t end well. The way in which they verbally assault their victims, all the while moving to kidnap them, is highly troubling. While all of this is an enactment of events in Edward’s novel, Susan’s intense reactions to key moments in the story, make you wonder if any of it was born out of reality.
The book-within-the-movie is better constructed and more involving than Susan’s flashbacks. It’s no reflection on the actors, but the book-within-the-movie is fully flushed out, while the flashbacks occasionally feel a bit rushed and lacks the tension that drives the ‘novel’ segment. All credit to Amy Adams though, she is able to convey a range of emotions without doing a whole lot. Jake Gyllenhaal has two parts. Though Edward isn’t fully fleshed out, he comes across as a rather boring, struggling writer, Tony is wound up tight as a drum. wracked by survivor’s guilt, his life has become single-minded: seeking justice for his family. Michael Shannon’s portrayal of detective Andes is a standout. Both serious and darkly funny, he steals nearly every scene he’s in. Another highlight: Laura Linney’s cameo as Susan’s upper-class mother.
Although the flashbacks don’t play as well as the book-within-the-movie segment, with Nocturnal Animals, Tom Ford proves he can make the story the highlight of a drama/thriller and still be fashionable.
Presented in the 2.40:1 aspect ratio, this 1080p presentation is a solid one. While I noticed slight softness in a few wide shots, sharpness is fine. Definition is impressive throughout, with no jagged edges and the image is pristine. Aside from the reds that appear in the opening credits, the color palette is rather dark throughout. Blacks are inky and low-light shots come through well. Viewers should be quite pleased with this presentation.
The DTS-HD MA 5.1 soundtrack is fairly standard, but does a good job with the material. Music and ambience is of particular focus here, occasionally opening up the soundfield. Dialogue is clean, clear and concise. For a character driven movie based largely on dialogue with some ambient sounds, this track is fine.
English, Spanish and French subtitles are included.
The following extras are available:
- The Making of Nocturnal Animals (HD, 11:18) Comments from writer/director Tom Ford, director of photography Seamus McGarvey, costume designer Arianne Phillips, producer Robert Salerno, and actors Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal, Isla Fisher, Ellie Bamber, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Armie Hammer, and Michael Sheen. They discuss characters, cast, performances and cinematography.
- DVD copy of the film.
- Digital HD.