Tom Ford – a man who states the money he makes from his highly successful designs funds his filmmaking thirst – has, on his second outing as writer and director, brought an air of superiority and artistic flare to Nocturnal Animals, an adaptation of Austin Wright’s novel, Tony and Susan. From the very outset, his sense of style and clean cut images fill the screen. You can’t help but wonder what you are about to witness as a number of plus size women prance around naked instantly opening your mind to a world of surreal expectations.
What we have here are two stories running side by side; a crime thriller on one hand and a melodrama on the other, both with a running theme of revenge in its purest form. While one side of the story takes us deep into the old west, where Texan men swig their beer and treat their prey with brutal animosity, the other is more mentally abusive, a subtle yet powerful play on the emotions of a woman who once burned the man who adored her.
Susan (Amy Adams) is a wealthy gallery owner in LA. Her world consists of vulgar pieces of art, a contemporary and cold apartment and is unhappily married to Walker (Armie Hammer), a successful businessman who takes far too many ‘business trips’, leaving Susan feeling lonely and isolated. She arrives home one day to find an unpublished manuscript waiting for her from her ex-husband Tony (Jake Gyllenhaal) – the complete opposite to Walker, a wannabe writer full of insecurity in his work – her childhood Texan love who didn’t quite fit the mould with her conservatively snobby mother. With Walker away, Susan fills her nights with flipping through the pages of Tony’s novel – which is played out in front of us – transporting the audience to Texas where we meet Edward (Gyllenhaal again), his wife Laura (Isla Fisher) and their teenage daughter Helen (Ellie Bamber) being unceremoniously run off the long Texan road by three loutish men headed up by Ray (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) which leads to a gruesome conclusion.
As Susan loses herself deeper into Tony’s words, she begins to reminisce about their time together. Represented through numerous flashbacks, these moments, at times, prove slightly confusing as we are taken from present day, to the past and the story in the novel. Fuelled by horrendous accounts in the aptly titled Nocturnal Animals, a nickname given to Susan herself by Tony because of the many restless nights they spent together, each flashback takes us to milestone events in her life with Tony where integral decisions were made.
As with any ending, a feeling of satisfaction is yearned for and, with the two storylines, we get two for the price of one. One which is lead by the consistently exceptional law-enforcing Michael Shannon – a cop who has nothing left to lose and acts like some kind of renegade – never putting a foot wrong in his ‘don’t give a damn’ performance, the other seeing Susan getting exactly what she deserves, sweet Revenge.
Ford’s extremely stylised but contrasting stories are excellently blended yet annoyingly puzzling at the same time. It’s a grippingly intelligent tale of regret and revenge for betrayal in love, and revenge for the love so brutally taken away. Nocturnal Animals will stay in your head and your heart long after you’ve left the cinema.