Stylish, unapologetic and seductive.
You expect nothing less from a film directed by a fashion designer turned filmmaker, Thomas Ford, who delivers his unflinching take on Austin Wright’s 1993 novel, Tony and Susan.
Susan Morrow (Amy Adams) is a successful art dealer yet feels very much alone within her passionless marriage to Hutton Morrow (Armie Hammer). With such an overbearing sense of emotional unfulfilment, Susan’s calm and collected exterior is threatened when she receives a manuscript from her first husband Edward Sheffield (Jake Gyllenhaal), who has not only dedicated the novel to her, but has named it ‘Nocturnal Animals’, a name he used to call her by. The book tells the violent tale of a family trip which goes horribly wrong when the family encounter a trio of Texan rednecks on an abandoned highway.
The tone is established from the outset; an opening sequence of naked flesh potently reflects the forthcoming exploitation of Susan’s consuming guilt she feels for her ex-husband, after she cruelly abandoned him. Her guilt is seen to manifest itself once Susan sees striking parallels with her life and the events of Edward’s novel, as she pictures Tony Hastings, the protagonist of the novel, as her ex-husband. This distorts Susan’s reality and the novel, reverting Susan to be suspended in what feels like a walking dream.
Ford chooses to dramatise the novel, elegantly switching between these two stories and memories of Edward and Susan’s past relationship, with smooth fades allowing all three stories to artistically bleed together. Ford relies on his attentive audience to know when the narratives have switched, rather than state what year and place the following scene will take place in, as seen in so many other films. This cements Ford’s skill at story-telling, as although we are reading Edward’s novel with Susan, we also seem to be reading Edward’s exposé of her.
Amy Adams’ performance is a standout, complimented by Ford’s story-telling diverts the audience from sympathising with Susan as a mere victim of her ex-husband’s revenge, but rather a woman who has received her comeuppance. Jake Gyllenhaal shines in his two roles Edward Sheffield/Tony Hastings, adding to the complexity of the film as Edward is not a striking villain his revenge tale demands him to be. Almost unrecognisable is Aaron Johnson, delivering a truly stellar performance as an unstable, egotistic Ray Marcus, one of the Texan rednecks from the novel.
In combining a remarkable attention to detail and an unhesitating camera, marks Thomas Ford’s second directorial outing as a sophisticated, heartless, revenge tale.
Nocturnal Animals is currently playing at all major cinemas.